Summary:

Execs at green car startups like to give the impression that hundreds of millions of dollars in DOE green car loans are just about to fill up their corporate bank accounts. For some, it could be true. For others, not so much.

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Chat with an exec at one of the dozens of green car startups that have applied for loans from the Department of Energy’s Advanced Technology Vehicles program, and 9 times out of 10 they’ll give you the impression that hundreds of millions of dollars in loans are just about to fill up their corporate bank accounts. For some, it could be true. For others, not so much.

Last week, execs at Coda Automotive told me that the DOE had notified them that their loan application for ATVM funds had recently passed a crucial stage in the approval process. If awarded, Coda would use the loan — and an incentive package from the state of Ohio — to build a battery factory at one of several sites in Ohio. The factory would provide batteries for its Coda all-electric sedan. Coda plans to start delivering cars to customers in December, is looking to sell 14,000 vehicles by the end of 2011, and has raised hundreds of millions in its own private capital. Overall, it seems like a pretty solid candidate for the loan.

Last week, ZAP CEO Steve Schneider also told me that he’s confident ZAP will be awarded its DOE loans shortly. Given ZAP’s reputation of repeatedly missing its targets and under-delivering on its promises, I’m not sure I’m as confident as Schneider that those loans are imminent.

While startup V-Vehicle was already denied a bid for ATVM loans, Senator Mary Landrieu (D-La.) told the press earlier this month that “the latest signs point to V-Vehicle Co. eventually securing the $320 million in federal loans the company needs to kick-start its vehicle-manufacturing project,” according to the local News-Star. V-Vehicle has reportedly strengthened its distribution model and raised more private equity.

It’s hard to predict which companies will get one of the coveted ATVM loans. While Ford and Nissan secured loans for their green car projects, Tesla and Fisker also scored loans in 2009. Tesla has sold some 1,200 Roadsters, but Fisker has yet to launch — or even let the media test drive — its flagship extended-range, plug-in vehicle, the Karma.

The Chief of the ATVM program, Jonathan Silver, told us in an interview that the DOE has a half a dozen or so loan applications “in active and deep due diligence now. I would expect that you would see one or more awards in the ATVM space early or mid summer.”

Created under Section 136 of the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007, the ATVM program holds authority to award up to $25 billion in direct loans. Projects can include re-equipping or expanding existing manufacturing facilities, establishing new plants in the U.S., or dealing with the engineering integration associated with these types of projects.

Under the program rules, ATVM-funded vehicle projects from new companies have to deliver fuel economy improvements of at least 25 percent compared to the average for that vehicle class in 2005 (for a manufacturer that already had cars on the market five years ago, its own 2005 fleet average serves as the base). According to the final rule-making for the program, the DOE considers “the extent to which an advanced technology vehicle exceeds” the minimum 25 percent improvement when it’s “prioritizing projects.”

Silver also explained:

Part of our objective in the ATVM program is to increase national fuel CAFE standards. At the same time, we’re interested in reduction of greenhouse gas emissions through reduction of tailpipe emissions and the like. Similarly we’re interested in creating jobs in the green economy. We’re also interested in moving forward important new technologies, which will enable the United States to take leadership positions in these rapidly growing new industrial sectors.

Company Request (Award) Project (Scale) Jobs (Locations) Phase
Ford $11.4B ($5.9B) Engineer tech for fuel-efficient, gas cars, convert truck plants to build cars (deploy in nearly 2M cars/year) 35K (IL, KY, MI, MO, OH) EcoBoost engine tech entered production in 2009 model year. Company has $46B market cap
Nissan ($1.6B) Construct new plant and retool factory to build electric cars and battery packs (150K vehicles/year, 200K batteries/year by March 2015) 1,300 (Smyrna, TN) Nissan LEAF concept unveiled 2008, followed by multiple prototypes; production version unveiled Aug. 2009. Parent company has $38B market cap.
Tesla $350M ($465M) Set up two plants, one for electric Model S, one for battery packs and electric drivetrains (30K packs, 20K vehicles in 2013) 1,000 (Southern CA), 650 (SF Bay Area, CA) Model S concept debuted Mar. 2009. Company had delivered more than 500 Tesla Roadsters at time of ATVM award (Jun. 2009).
Fisker ($528.7M) Engineering and integration work with U.S. suppliers for luxury plug-in hybrid Karma; set up manufacturing for mid-range Nina model (75K-100K Nina vehicles/year by 2012) 5,000 (suppliers throughout U.S., Nina plant in Delaware, Karma production in Finland, engineering initially planned for Pontiac, MI but moved to Irvine, CA) Fisker Karma shown in prototype; Nina in very early development.
Tenneco ($24M) Design, engineer and produce fuel-efficient emission control components for gas, hybrid and diesel-powered vehicle engines (components slated to go into 2M vehicles in 2010-2014) 1,500 (total workforce at Tenneco’s MI, IN, NE facilities). Company considered a Tier 1 automotive supplier and has $1.44B market cap.
V-Vehicle $321.1M (Rejected) Retool old GM plant to build 4-person, gas-powered car with better than national average fuel economy (production goals not disclosed). 1,400 directly (Monroe, LA); 1,800 indirectly (northeastern LA) Company says “first production prototype” is now “in testing.”

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