In Tesla's case, as in Fisker's, the government loan was broken into two parts.
The first chunk, for $365 million, is to finance a manufacturing facility for the Tesla Model S sedan, Tesla's lower-cost answer to its pricey Roadster.
The other $100 million funded a facility to manufacture battery packs and electric drive trains used by Teslas and other automakers, including the Smart For Two city car by Daimler. Tesla points to such partnerships - along with investments from Toyota and Panasonic - as signs that long established companies believe in its cars.
"We have a demonstrated track record on the financial side," O'Connell said, "that should give great comfort to the American taxpayer, as they think about a loan that's helped us to accelerate our business model."
Unlike Fisker, Tesla is a public company. Its SEC filings offer a more sober assessment of the obstacles it faces on the road to profitability.
Tesla has yet to turn a profit and suffered net losses in each quarter. "Since inception and through the three and six months ended June 30, 2011, we had accumulated net losses of $522.8 million," its most recent 10-K form shows.
It has no experience in high-volume manufacturing of electric cars, its filings say -- the very project it sees as the road toward profitability. Tesla said it encountered "significant delays" in launching the Roadster - and acknowledges that developing the Model S will be a more complex undertaking. The newer car is the project financed by DOE.
"We have no experience to date in high volume manufacturing of our electric vehicles," Tesla's SEC filings say. "Our future business depends in large part on our ability to execute on our plans to develop, manufacture, market and sell our planned Model S electric vehicle."
The Roadster was produced in small quantities with the body assembled by Lotus in the United Kingdom and final assembly by the company at its facility in Menlo Park, Calif. The Model S, by contrast, will have much greater volume and be manufactured in Fremont, Calif. The company said production will begin next year.