- The Department of Energy’s Advanced Technology Vehicle Manufacturing Loan Program will, among other things, establish battery-related companies for electric vehicles in the United States.
- The loan program had already come under scrutiny after the high-profile bankruptcy of Solyndra, a solar panel maker that defaulted on $ 535 million in loans.
- Funds for the program are already earmarked, which should help speed up future loans.
If America does not build a competitive manufacturing base for lithium-ion batteries, the 9.6 million US electric car sales forecast in 2040 would be supported by “about $ 100 billion in imports” of cells and batteries. packs, according to a Biden administration report released in June.
To avoid this negative scenario, the Department of Energy is preparing its Advanced Technology Vehicle Manufacturing (ATVM) long-term loan program and enlisting two highly experienced people in electric vehicles to advise on a strategic vision. . The program has $ 17.7 billion to loan for fuel-efficient vehicles and their related components, but most of the upcoming projects will relate to plug-in cars and trucks.
A little history is in order. Congress established the ATVM in 2007 to, in part, “provide low-cost loan capital for fuel-efficient vehicles and qualifying component manufacturing in the United States.” The initial funding was $ 25 billion, with loans to Tesla, Fisker, Nissan, Ford and Vehicle Production Group (VPG, maker of wheelchair accessible vans that run on natural gas). Tesla has paid off its loan, as has Nissan, and Ford is making its payments on time. But Fisker went bankrupt and the government lost something like $ 139 million on that loan. VPG also defaulted, with a loss of $ 42 million.
It was the failure of another company that received a separate loan from DOE, solar power producer Solyndra, that put ATVM on a slump after the $ 8 billion loan. The solar loan came under heavy criticism during the 2012 election campaign.
In March, Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm (former Governor of Michigan) appointed Jigar Shah director of the Loans Program Office (LPO), which manages the ATVM. He is a senior employee, founder of Generate Capital and SunEdison, who was also the founding CEO of Carbon War Room, a non-profit organization founded with Richard Branson to help entrepreneurs tackle climate change. Two of Shah’s key hires make it clear that he isn’t just going to hold the keys to a locked safe.
Chelsea Sexton has been appointed Senior Advisor for the ATVM program at LPO, and in this role, she will do what she can to revive a national industry. Sexton received his college education working for Saturn, then went to work deploying the EV1, the company’s first electric car. The program was short-lived, with cars crashed and Sexton fired, but it featured prominently in Chris Paine’s 2006 documentary. Who killed the electric car? Since then, she has been an electric vehicle advocate and industry advisor, as well as a presenter on the Fully loaded Podcast.
Wayne Killen, recently appointed to a similar position, is a former director of Electrify America (established to invest $ 2 billion in electric vehicle infrastructure and awareness as part of Volkswagen’s diesel regulation), a former executive committee member of the Electric Drive Transportation Association and an “electric vehicle architect” at Audi of America. “Since 2012, I have focused squarely on the electrification of transportation,” Killen says on his LinkedIn page.
Automatic week talked to the two advisers on the merits. But it’s likely that a priority for new ATVM loans will be companies that want to establish EV battery-related businesses in the United States, as this is a top priority for Biden. The administration predicts that the global lithium-ion battery market will grow five to ten-fold over the next decade. “The US industrial base must be positioned to meet this vast increase in market demand which will otherwise likely benefit well-resourced and sustained competitors in Asia and Europe,” says DOE’s national master plan for companies. lithium batteries.
Other areas that could receive loan funding include electric vehicle charging infrastructure (including fast DC charging) and components such as microchips and other electronics, lightweight materials (which increase range and efficiency), sourcing and processing of vital battery materials such as lithium and cobalt. in the United States and work on battery cells, cathodes, packs and modules. Of course, ATVM could also provide financing to automakers who want to build electric cars and trucks in the United States, as it has done in the past.
Shah said in a statement that the program is moving quickly, with the goal of US production. “The secretary highlighted American innovations that are often made overseas, which is why the Loan Programs Office has proactively contacted these companies to ensure they know the ATVM program can be used to support large-scale manufacturing in the United States. , “he said.” We are actively engaged in several projects of manufacturing cells and battery packs, as well as recycling critical batteries and minerals to support the broader supply chain. “
The exact form of the new projects remains to be seen. “I’ll be curious to see how they make loans going forward,” said Sam Abuelsamid, senior analyst for e-mobility at Guidehouse Insights. “I’m assuming a group will go towards converting internal combustion powertrain facilities to produce engines, assemble batteries and eventually for cell production. The Biden plan has focused on increasing incentives for electric cars made at Union factories in the United States, so that they can target those facilities for conversion or replacement. “
Many aspects of Biden’s electric vehicle fast lane will require congressional approval, but a key value of ATVM funding is that it is already appropriate. ATVM was dying, but now it looks like a program whose time has definitely come.
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