The Obama administration has defended its decision to allow Fisker Automotive to assemble its high concept electric sports sedan, the Karma, in Finland, even though U.S. taxpayers had made a major investment in the car's development -- saying none of the American money was spent on the car's overseas assembly.
But Republican critics this weekend challenged the administration's explanation, saying federal loans should have only supported applicants who would be building their cars on American soil.
"The Department of Energy and Fisker executives are splitting hairs about where the money went," said Rep. Tim Murphy, a Pennsylvania Republican who sits on the House committee that has been investigating the Obama Administration's "green energy" loan program. "Ultimately, American taxpayer dollars went to a Finnish automaker to build high-end luxury automobiles for Hollywood."
The criticism came on the heels of online reports published Thursday by ABCNews.com in partnership with the Center for Public Integrity's iWatch News, and a Friday report on ABC News' "Good Morning America" about Fisker Automotive, the recipient of a "green energy" loan in 2010. The reports quoted auto industry experts who said Fisker's loan invited comparisons to the ill-fated Energy Department loan to Solyndra, because delays and obstacles have hampered progress on the luxury electric car, called the Karma. Solyndra, a solar panel manufacturer that received $535 million in taxpayer support, declared bankruptcy earlier this year. That federal loan is now the subject of investigations by the Justice Department and by inspectors general from the Energy and Treasury departments.
On Saturday, The Washington Post followed with the discovery that the Energy Department quietly eased expectations for Fisker's projected car sales volume after it conditionally approved the loan, and made allowances for scaling back projections in the final loan agreement.
Both the automaker and the Obama administration spent the past few days trying to head off the Solyndra comparisons. They defended the administration's effort to give a boost to start-up companies in the alternative energy sector. And they sought to clarify the decision to allow the loan to be approved even after the company had announced its decision to build the Karma in Finland. While the Department of Energy did set aside about $170 million to finance the development of the Karma, they said, the deal included an agreement stating that none of that money would be spent on the assembly of the car, which was to occur at the overseas factory. They also noted the promise of a second line of cars, which would eventually be assembled by U.S. workers at a shuttered GM plant in Delaware.
"Not a single dollar of the [Department of Energy] DoE loans has been, or will be, spent outside of America," a statement from Fisker spokesman Roger Ormisher said. "All expenditures are reviewed by [PriceWaterhouseCoopers] on behalf of the DoE." Press Secretary Jay Carney told ABC News White House Correspondent Jake Tapper Friday that the funds provided to Fisker "are not being used, as I believe the CEO said to ABC, are not being used for its facility in Finland."