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House Panel Examines Government Loan To Fisker Automotive


Auto executives got a grilling on Capitol Hill yesterday. Not the usual suspects from Detroit's Big Three. Think much, much smaller. Executives from the hybrid carmaker Fisker testified about hundreds of millions of dollars in loans Fisker got from the government. Today, the company is on the verge of collapse.

NPR's Sonari Glinton reports.

SONARI GLINTON, BYLINE: Fisker, the car company, isn't dead yet. But Congress has already begun the autopsy.

REPRESENTATIVE JIM JORDAN: Today's hearing is about getting to the bottom of the U.S. Department of Energy's Fisker Automotive loan fiasco.

GLINTON: Republican Jim Jordan ran the House hearing titled "Green Energy Oversight: Examining the Department of Energy's Bad Bet on Fisker Automotive."

JORDAN: The company built cars that cost $100,000. They built them in Finland. Taxpayers effectively subsidized luxury novelty vehicles for the likes of Justin Bieber, Leonardo DiCaprio and Al Gore.

GLINTON: The issue is a Department of Energy program that made loans to encourage new fuel technology in cars. Ford got loans, so did Nissan, and Tesla, those companies have been repaying the loans. Fisker, though, is in pretty bad shape and it's had trouble paying back the money, and if it goes bankrupt the government could lose almost $200 million.

Here's Republican Congressman Patrick McHenry questioning the company's founder and former CEO, Henrik Fisker.

REPRESENTATIVE PATRICK MCHENRY: How much taxpayer dollars have you lost - American taxpayer money have you lost?

HENRIK FISKER: Uh. I assume you're talking about Fisker Automotive. At this point in time I do not believe that any taxpayer dollars have been lost.

MCHENRY: None? OK. So you plan to repay the loans and the money you've already received from the taxpayer?

FISKER: Congressman, I'm no longer the company's owner...

MCHENRY: Oh fantastic. So let me...

GLINTON: Losing the company's CEO and namesake was one of the many problems that plagued Fisker. Its battery manufacturer went bankrupt, it lost more than 300 hundred cars because of Hurricane Sandy, and at the same time, its chief competitor in the market stole its thunder and was acclaimed to be the car of the year by many in the automotive press.

Many Republicans on the committee say that Fisker's loan was an example of cronyism. Democrats called the hearing a show trial.

Here's Gerry Connolly of Virginia.

REPRESENTATIVE GERRY CONNOLLY: In order to get, maybe, cheap political headlines at the expense of the president, I might add we spent two years doing that in this committee and it didn't work. The American people were having none of it.

GLINTON: Fisker's current CEO told committee members that the company is still looking for ways to get back into production and pay back the loan money to government. Though, Fisker missed the payment on Monday, he insisted the company isn't dead - yet.

Sonari Glinton, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Sonari Glinton is a NPR Business Desk Correspondent based at our NPR West bureau. He covers the auto industry, consumer goods, and consumer behavior, as well as marketing and advertising for NPR and Planet Money.