President Barack Obama did not make much progress on his pledge to invest in fuel efficient vehicles beyond his first year in office.
Legislation reauthorizing Department of Energy funding died in the 2016 lame-duck session.
In 2007, Congress authorized $25 billion in loans to automakers to develop fuel efficient cars and promote domestic manufacturing, but it didn't fund the Advanced Technology Vehicles Manufacturing Loan Program until early 2009. That measure appropriated $7.5 billion to cover the subsidy costs) and $10 million to cover implementation.
Under the program, the Energy Department awarded $8.4 billion to five companies: Fisker, Ford, Nissan, Tesla and the Vehicle Production Group.
But the program came under fire when two of its debtors declared bankruptcy in 2013. The Energy Department was only able to recover $53 million of a $526 million loan to Fisker, and a $50 million loan to the Vehicle Production Group was sold for just $3 million at auction.
The program is still authorized to provide $16.6 billion in loans. After factoring in subsidies and pending applications for loans, there remains about $4.2 billion, according to the Government Accountability Office. It seems unlikely that these loans will be approved in the remaining days of the Obama administration.
The program has weathered several legislative discussions about scaling back the funds or defunding it altogether (summarized here in a Congressional Research Service report).
A 2015 bill to provide $1.6 billion for funding went nowhere, while a 2016 bill to expand eligibility for the program (among other things) died after time had run out to resolve differences in the House and Senate versions.
Outside of the manufacturer loan program, the Energy Department has also provided hundreds of millions of dollars for research and development for fuel efficient vehicle technologies, including $58 million in 2016, $55 million in 2014, $45 million in 2013, $8 million in 2012, and $175 million in 2011.
These grants were awarded to an array of public and private sector institutions, so it's difficult to tally just how much went to manufacturers.
Direct funding, however, has been limited to the 2009 authorization, said Lowell Ungar, the senior policy analyst with the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy. "That's when Congress was willing to appropriate large amounts of money. So that's a reflection of Congress, not the administration."
Ungar pointed out that the administration has pursued energy efficiency through a different means: raising fuel economy standards.
Still, Obama has come up well short of the $50 billion in funding promise. We rate it Promise Broken.