Blog Post

Note to Romney: Tesla is not Solyndra

Stay on Top of Enterprise Technology Trends

Get updates impacting your industry from our GigaOm Research Community
Join the Community!

The ghost of Solyndra could not escape a mention in the first Presidential debate on Wednesday night — Mitt Romney yet again used Solyndra as an example of inappropriate subsidies from the Obama administration for clean energy. But Romney also called out another more surprising cleantech company: electric car maker Tesla (s TSLA).

Customer rides of the Model S Beta

Romney lumped Tesla in with Solyndra, Fisker Automotive and Ener1 as examples of misplaced spending. It’s true that Solyndra and Ener1 went bankrupt, and Fisker Automotive has clearly been struggling. But Tesla in general has been a success story of the stimulus, and is producing a widely praised electric car in Fremont, Calif, at the rate of 100 vehicles a week (for the last week of September). (To clarify, Tesla’s loan was from the Advanced Vehicle Manufacturing Program, not The Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) that bailed out the auto industry).

In addition, Tesla has been paying back its loan, it created jobs in California, and it’s helping customers move off of oil for transportation. The company had a successful IPO back in 2010, and its stock has been trading surprisingly high for months, if not years.

Yes, Tesla made an announcement last week that it is about four to five weeks behind production schedule for its Model S electric sedan, and that meant the company had to cut its annual revenue guidance. But Tesla is still largely on track, and I believe it is a game changer in the industry. At an event a few weeks ago Tesla investor Nancy Pfund, a partner with DBL Investors, said she thought Tesla would emerge as one of the defining success stories of Obama’s stimulus. If Tesla continues on its current path, I would agree.

Tesla is certainly not Solyndra.

59 Responses to “Note to Romney: Tesla is not Solyndra”

  1. jackiecox

    a bankruptcy waiting to happen—10 year history of losses year after year of unwary investors, and obama/chu putting up half the money, for a bankruptcy expert whp will hang around as long as the cash keeps coming in. imagine for a minute, 10 years without making a profit, only obama/chu enable this sort of thing, with taxpayer money—the 21 inch tires cost 3 times what 18 inch tires cost, the lithium ion battery swells up in a few years and cost as much as the car to replace, + the electricity called emission free comes from coal fired power plants, and the rare metals in the battery poison the forests and streams, until they dump into the ocean—BIZARRE—a pres and DOE czar who do not understand science or economics, and continue free trade, or exporting our jobs to slave countries, while homelessness increases exponentially, and unemployment figures get better when the unemployment insurance ends, the entire political arena is a joke on the american people– when will it end ?

  2. Paulo Franke

    I hail from Brazil, we here we have abundant green energy but ZERO brilliant innovations like Tesla cars. It is simply surreal to see a presidential candidate going against this initiative, so truly representative of the American pioneering tradition. What is the problem with Mr. Romney?

  3. thruhiker70

    Wow! And at a sticker price of about $50 thosand for the most basic model (that includes a $7,500 federal rebate that you and I pay for whether we or not we wish to purchase the vehicle). Also, the Tesla boasts a replacement battery charge (which is frighteningly easy to incur) of $32,000 plus labor. Whoopee!

  4. Since the dawn of human civilization a Chief, King, Queen, Khan, Emperor, President, Prime Minister, and various legislative bodies have been petition, begged, bribed, lobbied by its citizens to get involved every facet of life right or wrong, good or bad, and this behavior seems eternal, after
    all the first faster than light drive, exploration to the far ends of the solar system and beyond, Thorium Reactors (my favorite), and the Hadron Collider will involve government (sorry T-baggers).

    I don’t know a lot about the science of the collider but we in the United States in time are going to sorely regret not building one in the US, most big civilization changing civil engineering-science-exploration projects have to be done or sponsored by the government with the cost shared by the civilization (country) because the cost is too great for one person or company to bare. In short with Japan, Germany, China, and Russia big active involved government is here to stay the competition says so. Electric cars are very important to the future if we don’t someone else will after where will the jobs come from.

  5. charlotte

    So some of you think it is a positive thing that our federal government is subsidizing in the form of government backed loans a luxury car that ranges in price $50,000 – $100,000 AFTER and additional $7500 tax credit? Somebody who can afford this car is by my definition “rich”, and then we are going to take $7500 in federal tax money paid by some poor schmuck that makes $50,000 a year and give it to a rich guy who bought a car? On what planet does this kind of policy make any financial sense?

    • Charlotte the larger benefit is that tesla is developing cutting edge new technology. Some of the best batteries (for the money) in the world are small 3400mah cells. Developing a battery pack with 6000 batteries that are charged and discharge together is new technology. EV’s with 180 mile range is state of the art. EVs will likely be the next technology when electrons are much cheaper than combustion (they are now really). The EV is in its infancy. In the same way the government helped the internet by developing browsers (creating a massive new market). The government is helping the new cutting edge technology of EVs. Will they survive; who knows. Tesla is more competition in the auto market. When the economy grows again the price of oil will skyrocket. EVs will be in their third generation. When tesla gets its technology much cheaper and lighter it may win in the market. There will be a sweet spot for super light cheap EVs if we can get there. You have to walk before you run. Yes green technology is a long term play. If America cannot develop long term energy and technology policy then it is in trouble. Natural gas usage will have a role in expanded fossil fuel use but it has to distributed by long pipeline networks which are constrained and likely will not keep pace with significant new demand.

      • I am beginning to think this thread is overrun by PR people for Tesla. My car, a 350Z, will go 400 miles on a “charge” and I can pull into a station and “recharge” it in five minutes and go another 400 miles. The reality is that until EV technology can do that, it will not be a mass product or it will be one relegated to riding around in communities or around town or exotic status among liberal one percenters. I guess the hybrid model like the Prius works ok.

        Understand, I have nothing against any of this technology. I am sure what you say about it being very cutting edge technology is very true. The person that creates a car that performs like my Z and it costs me a fraction to run, they will earn my dollars for sure. That is how free markets work. But the government should not be funding it and deciding whether one entrepreneur or the other has a better idea and picking winners and losers. That was the point Mr. Romney was making and I think most Americans agree.

      • True EVs are not competitive now except for commuters with charge stations where they work…a small number of folks. EVs have only been on the market for 3 years. Doug America does not and never will control its oils supply…this is reality; no drilling can change that for more than a few months. When the price of gasoline in the US matches the price in the EU, say $6/liter you will be eating your words. Batteries will improve and EVs will improve with government help. EV can transport you to work when their is no oil available. The government’s long term thinking will save your short term thinking a**. Your EV will go twice a far as it does now because of its investment in nanotechnology based cathodes and anodes. Or maybe it will be biofuel again with government investment that allows you or your children to go to work at their private enterprise job when we have the next oil shock. Good thing the government was thinking ahead, because you weren’t.

  6. Doug the reason that conservative market liberalizers are the stewards of depressions, e.g. Hoover, Reagan, Bush I and II is because their economic dogma is fantasy. The reality is that markets don’t produce perfect results. They don’t produce predictable result. There are few balanced diversely competitive markets. Markets produce many unaccounted for environmental and social externalities. The free market is political rhetoric that benefits the folks that know how to manipulate unregulated markets like the financial sector which is why they spend so much money bribing the republican party. The reality is that often markets don’t work without government involvement. Health care is a great example of a market that will not work because of the mismatch between economic goods versus social needs. Markets are amazing communicators of values and methods of distributing resources, but your model of the economic reality is a scam. Global markets make market dynamics even more convoluted. Social democracies that use Keynesianism, conservatism, protectionism and privatization at the appropriate times in the economic cycle will serve their citizens in the most honest and beneficial way. You are a zombie. This country is in trouble until we can excrete the insanity.

    • Fred said: “The free market is political rhetoric that benefits the folks that know how to manipulate unregulated markets like the financial sector which is why they spend so much money bribing the republican party.”

      If this is true, why was Obama the darling of Wall Street in 2008? Goldman Sachs, Buffet, Gates and the owner of the subject of this article are all friends and supporters of O almighty.

      The reason the healthcare market has failed is because of third party payer system. I have called up my doctor to find out how much a service was going to cost and they had no idea. They had to submit to insurance company to figure it out. They sounded like Obama during the debate. They had no clue. What a joke.

      We should create a true fee for service marketplace and then the cost of services will fall. The doctor will have to have clear pricing policies and people will pay like they pay at the auto shop or any other service. People that are poor will get medicaid and old medicare, but in modified forms that create competition in the marketplace. That solves both economic and social good. The solution that Obama and progressives offer is one that taxes people to death so the government can provide them something for free. Nothing is free.

      As for regulation, i think Romney was advocating for regulation last night. Just not regulations that have the effect of putting millions of people out of work for no good reason.

      • Doug I know you are not persuaded by facts so if you read Fareed Zakaria’s article you won’t be able to see through your ideological blinders:

        Market forces will allocate healthcare to the ones that can pay for it. It is expensive because it is advanced technology capitalized by small numbers of people. Society requires that people be treated long term and systemically otherwise disease spreads from the sick to the healthy. The market forces do not provide incentive for treating everyone. People are not experts in medicine so the have no idea the risk of dying if they don’t sell their house to pay for their operation. You get the idea. The data is that nationalized health care works better. You will ignore this fact in favor of your fantasy world. It works better because government can decide better than individuals on what medicine to pay for what illness. Nationalized programs reject paying for hip replacements for 90 year olds. America’s market system allows 90 years olds to have hip replacements because they have Cadillac insurance and doctors want to make money. Nationalized system can match doctor compensation with the needs of society not doctor’s desire to get rich. A nationalized system pays for doctor education so that they don’t have to raise money to pay for their education. Doctors don’t start out in the red.

  7. I think you jumped to a conclusion. Romney never said specifically that Tesla was one of the Green Companies that failed.

    Romney’s exact quote is “But — but don’t forget, you put $90 billion — like 50 years worth of breaks — into solar and wind, to — to Solyndra and Fisker and Tesla and Ener1. I mean, I — I had a friend who said, you don’t just pick the winners and losers; you pick the losers.”

    You could assume the green companies he lists are the “losers”; however, he never said specifically that that list is of failed companies. I think his point though is that the government shouldn’t be selecting specific companies to help as that could potentially lead to the government picking a loser. Plus it could lead to corrupt crony capitalism.

    Telsa may be doing fine now, but if you take away all the government subsidies, would it survive? I don’t know. However, there is a potential of the company not being strong enough to survive. It is important that green companies survive, but the government should be making policies that stimulate that industry rather than giving money away to specific companies.

  8. Part of the point is subsidies in general. one side gives money to oil and the other is giving money to green tech…either way the government is playing games in the private sector with tax payer money….not a good idea.

  9. part of the point is subsidies in general….one side complains about oil subsidies while the other side is giving money to green tech…either way the government is playing games in the private sector.

  10. techtrends

    This author is so naive on the energy supply chain. Electric cars green?.. Where does the author think the electricity comes from?.. Yes, oil, coal, …. Or we can be further naive and think Tesla cars only use electricity from windmills.

  11. Elon Musk should come out swinging. Romney’s remarks were not true. Shows the way Romney makes stupid remarks so casually.

    Obama’s response should have been: “the only companies who were losers were the ones that Bain Capital targeted”

    Also Romney is well tutored by Karl Rove in the art of “creating your own reality” by saying outright lies.

  12. Katie, are you working rapid response for the Obama team? It is not working. The point Romney is making is the government should not be in the business of picking winners and losers and all of these are losers and the ultimate loser is the taxpayers. I think the Tesla cars are pretty cool. I saw a Fisker recently, wow was it nice. But taxpayer money should not go into these enterprises. Does the government invest in Apple to make iPhones? NO. Let these car makers go out in the open market and find investors and let the market decide if they should make more.

    • I’m not making the argument that the loan programs were a good or bad idea. I also don’t think the government should be loaning that much money to high risk startups. We’re discussing if Tesla is the equivalent of Solyndra, Fisker, Ener1. Which I don’t think it is.

      • I agree with you Tesla is cool. So is Fisker. Solar panels and windmills are cool too. I like Corvettes with gasoline engines as well as jet aircraft. But I am making the argument – The U.S. government should not be making investments in consumer startup companies. A NASA engineer I know says Elon Musk sure knows his way around the government trough. It does not matter if they pay the loans back. They should not be getting them in the first place. That is what banks and VC firms are for in a free market.

    • CleanEnergyAuthority

      The government has a roll in helping developing technologies ESPECIALLY when they support policies the admininistration feels are important, in these cases they are trying to combat carbon emissions thru EV’s, solar power. better batteries etc. If you bothered to look into ALL the investments and loan made thru this program you might change your tune. Sorry but music players are not quite as important to our economy as finding new sources of energy or developing industries that will halt slow down climate change.

      • Do you think batteries are clean? I guess so if you ship them to be discarded in a open landfill in a remote area of China far away from your safe liberal neighborhood. How is that battery charged? Either through a nuclear or coal energy plant. We have plenty of energy here, but you do not want anything that uses oil and coal. You are not going to get your electric car charged with a windmill and solar panel. Oil and coal are cheap and effective. I am a free market guy and when the technology you prefer is viable, the free market will speak and people will buy it. But what you advocate for is not ready for prime time and my tax dollars should not go to subsidize it.

        As for the iPhone or similar products not being “quite important to our economy” look at this article that says the iPhone will boost GDP:

        Your comment proves the point that Romney made last night. You and Obama want to pick the winners and losers in our economy. Without the iPhone, it would seem our economy would be worse than it is.

  13. Perhaps… But the fact is…you can’t criticize Exxon/Mobile tax breaks and at the same time spend 50yrs worth on pretty much failed endeavors. B.O. Looked extremely outmatched and ill prepared without his TelePrompTer. You can vote for inexperienced politician for your countries CEO or you can vote for an experienced and successful businessman for your countries CEO. It’s obvious why companies hire experienced executives….why would our country deserve less? The last 4 yrs shows exactly what hype gets you…and your kids (future).

    • The president is not a CEO! Lets play along with your analogy of prez=CEO and say that congress and the judges are VP. in any corporation a CEO can fire a VP. a president can’t.
      Romney doesn’t have an answer on how he will move legislation through a party of no (which the dems will become if he wins).

    • JohnnyA2

      The last four years show you what doing a good job is all about. maybe you missed October 2008. Would you like a reminder?
      October 10 2008 Dow Jones 8,451.19
      September 28th 2012 Dow Jones 13,437.13

      October 2008 job losses 240k for a year to date total of 1.2 MILLION
      August 2012 job gains 96,000 In the last 30 months that number has been 4.2 MILLION jobs.
      The previous 8 years there were a TOTAL of 3 million new jobs created.

      By the way, the government is NOT a business. It should not be run like one. If you think it should, then I all military spending should end, and we should hire it out to the cheapest bidder.

    • It isn’t just about GM (or Chrysler) but also the supply chain. If the auto industry went under you would have a cascade series of bankruptcy. Many of those firms also design and supply materials for other industries. Even if some firms survived, they would be seriously set back and job losses would have been much higher.

  14. HappyWarrior

    Note to Katie:
    Romney was referring to the 90 billion dollars given to the clean energy companies (many of whom either failed completely or have certainly NOT returned the money with interest) vice the 2.8 billion dollars in tax breaks given to oil and gas companies. 90 billion. And all you can do is focus on this one company who has not completely failed and is . . . oh my gosh. . . paying back the loan? That’s it? That is all you have? 90 billion dollars. . . .

      • HappyWarrior

        I am not peddling anything JimBob.
        I like truth. Truth is good. Truth works.
        Not going to read or site a CNN fact check.
        CNN lost credibility with me in the mid 90’s.
        But, I would say that around a 13% failure rate is still staggering when considering the 90 billion dollars involved. That is a 13% FAILURE rate. Not taking into account companies who took the money and are barely afloat IE not paying it back.

    • Yes. Thats the point of this article. His mention of Tesla. If you want to read an article on Romney’s endless criticism of incentives for clean energy companies there are a million other articles to read on that on that Interwebs.

      • HappyWarrior

        No thank you.
        I would like to read a story that has no bias, but just some objective facts regarding the context of the statement.
        I am not keen on a picking apart of words so that you can prop up your agenda.
        No wonder 60 percent of the public distrusts the media.
        This issue is not black and white.
        Learn to take the good with the bad, and don’t be afraid to admit when you are wrong.
        I know it rarely happens that leftists are wrong, but I am willing to bet that the clean energy movement is far from perfect since, you know, human beings are behind it.

    • CleanEnergyAuthority

      Sorry but most of those funds are currently backing very successful companies. Solyndra was an anomaly. Obama failed to point that out. That 2.8 billion is every year. That 90 billion is a program started years ago that continues.

      • HappyWarrior

        Private industry is always better at generating winners and losers.
        If the government wanted to get involved with clean energy, it could have done a lot more with a lot less money.
        The act of taking smaller sums of money and offering grants to small groups such as college science clubs and small interested companies would have been much more likely to produce acceptable results. 500 million dollars for just one company that failed is far too much. We could have had 500 one million dollar grants that would have been a much better investment.
        I have nothing against clean energy. I think it is a wonderful idea.
        The difference is, I would like to go about getting there in a financially responsible and intelligent way.
        Defending an ideal is a great thing, but defending an ideal that is being implemented poorly for the sake of defending it is simply drinking the Kool Aid.

      • Unfortunately the story that is never told is what happens to markets or products (or potential markets and products) when government invests in it. Defense endeavors aside (as a first responsibility of government, defense is unique, and investing in things like the space program or the precursors to the Internet do not belong in the same conversation), when government throws a few billion or a million at a company, private investors generally back away, because it’s like competing with a rich uncle, who doesn’t know how to invest wisely, he just gives his sisters kid a bunch of money with no strings. Investors want plans, they want returns, they want equity, which is what makes business development work. Who knows what innovations are either stalled or never started because of government involvement. Does anyone believe that the PC industry would be where it is now if the feds had thrown billions at IBM or one of those other companies (many that went belly up)? We’d have nowhere near the innovation in that market that we do. Bottom line is that government investment crowds out wise, successful investors.

    • Will White

      So let GM and all its suppliers go bankrupt? What about the banks … should those have gone under too? The fed is the lender of last resort that should protect the foundations of the economy.

      Oh … and the Internet was a government project … so there’s that.

      • Frank Rizzo

        The fed is the lender of last resort that should protect ̶t̶h̶e̶ ̶f̶o̶u̶n̶d̶a̶t̶i̶o̶n̶s̶ ̶o̶f̶ ̶t̶h̶e̶ ̶e̶c̶o̶n̶o̶m̶y̶ those who make large campaign contributions. FTFY

    • JohnnyA2

      The government builds an airport. Who do you think that subsidizes? AIRLINES. The government builds a road, who do you think that subsidizes? Auto companies, oil companies and property owners along the new road. You really are clueless

  15. Solyndra filed for bankruptcy because the Chinese government subsidized the Chinese solar companies who then were able to sell at a much lower price on the world market. Romyan does not see this, as well as the other tea drinkers.

    • Which is precisely why we should not have invested tax dollars in it. Private industry can see those series of events a mile away, which is why no one is throwing billions at the solar/wind/fantasy energy market. Boone Pickens (an oil man from way back) lost his ASS (billions)on wind, and got out of the wind market. As he said; “alternative energy sources are not ready yet, and pretending that they are with government money is folly.”

  16. i am hopeful for tesla, but they may end up a solyndra if the EV market remains a niche. certainly they are doing as well as can be expected, but in the end if the non-early adopters continue to say NO to EV, then the entire EV ecosystem is in trouble. Now, if a miracle battery comes along…

    • You are kidding right? We have lost billions on GM and if they floated the stock owned by “we the people” on the open market, the stock would be worthless. I have nothing against GM, but the whole bailout was a payoff to UAW. That is what is wrong with it. It did not address the problem which was the union bloat. The taxpayers will never see the money from the GM “investment”.

      • Suan, please read in full the article you posted, If you manage your own home finances I can’s see how anyone can say that GM paid back their loans. To put it simply… GM used a their visa card to pay for their discover card.

        For those that don’t want to read the link Suan Posted, here are the key points:
        Yes, it’s true that GM paid back its loan [ 6.7 billion ] from the Treasury Department, in full, ahead of schedule.

        But the debt was only part of the automaker bailout package. Through the Troubled Asset Relief Program, the Treasury gave GM $49.5 billion, most of which was converted into an ownership stake in the form of stock. Through this equity stake, the government still owns 61 percent of GM.

        So can you please tell me how that, in anyway constitutes a payback to the taxpayers?

      • @ Susan Kraemer: “Right now, the federal government owns 500,000,000 shares of GM, or about 26% of the company. It would need to get about $53.00/share for these to break even on the bailout, but the stock closed at only $20.21/share on Tuesday. This left the government holding $10.1 billion worth of stock, and sitting on an unrealized loss of $16.4 billion.”

        As I stated, if we put the 500 million shares “we” owe on the market, the stock would be worthless and we would lose billions more than mentioned above. Also, as the article above states, GM is probably headed back to bankruptcy. You should not get your news from the WH.