Billion Dollar Bet

Questions surround startup green companies getting taxpayer loans.
9:12 | 10/27/11

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Transcript for Billion Dollar Bet
Welcome back I'm Brian Ross in New York. In the wake of the bankruptcy of the solar panel maker -- and the loss of a half billion dollars in taxpayers' money loaned by the Department of Energy. We've taken a closer look at other so called start up Green companies that have received similar laws in a joint investigation with the senate Republican -- And in particular to electric car start up companies that in total represent a billion dollar bet with taxpayer money. These are cars the Obama administration says represent the future of the American road. They're sleek and expense this is the current 96000 dollar half electric half gas car. The creation. A famed European auto designer Henrik -- Well it's a very very good looking -- and the first sister car off the line went to Leonardo DiCaprio. Other start up cars back the taxpayer money come from test all electric. It's roadster costs 109000. Dollars and its -- champion. Arnold Schwarzenegger and -- -- But beyond the hype and the -- seriously. About whether the billion dollars taxpayer money Obama administration has invested in electric car start -- worth the risk. It is a major goal of the president as we can break our dependence on oil with biofuels. Become the first country to have a million electric vehicles on the road by 2050. In the case of the district where he was only last week that the first forty of them were delivered two years behind schedule. With the -- himself giving Nightline a first look. It almost looks like a super -- even -- -- a four door sedan. And the prices just on the 100000 dollars expensive it's expensive -- -- horsepower. It's a luxury ride. The range on battery power is only 32 miles according to the EPA -- sister maintains it's closer to 52 months. Fister says the -- style. Makes it different that other Green cards we what people get excited emotionally about environmental friendly car. The decision by the Department of Energy to give this -- half billion dollar plus loan came with the promise that it would produce a smaller version -- in Delaware. Creating 2500 jobs in vice president Biden's home state. This is seed money -- -- return back to the American consumer. -- billions and billions and billions of dollars in good new jobs. But so far the only cars being made of come off the line at this plant in Finland something the US government knew would be the case when the loan was approved. Fister says while the company make sure it only spends its taxpayer money in the US. It could not find any affordable place in the US to assemble its first line of cars. We're not in the business of failing we're in the business of winning so we make the right decision for the business that's violent -- An assortment from the company says it already employs 700 designers and engineers in the US. Decision to assemble the car in Finland was not received well by auto workers we talked with -- an occupied Detroit rallied last. The work should be done here -- -- them. Now Republicans in congress are questioning by the Department of Energy approved the loan in the first place knowing in advance this drew would assemble his first cars and -- Not the US I think when Department of Energy found out they couldn't do -- in America that was time to pull the plug. As to the other electric car start -- getting huge taxpayer dollars Tesla. Almost another half billion dollars it plans to build 20000 vehicles a year -- the planet -- in California. Now being prepared for production to start next year. Test was future depends on the success of -- A family sedan model -- being seen here for the first time in Tesla did for the test track. Priced at around 57000. Dollars it to his style to compete with luxury cars and BMW Anderson. While expensive there is a very robust market. These are cars for -- wealthy Americans for average Americans. Well I don't know how you define define wealthy -- the vice president chairman O'Connell says the car will revolutionized -- making this about -- -- as the moral -- its big flat battery. That goes under the car provides a range of almost 300 miles before needing a charge but some industry analysts including the auto columnist at fortune magazine say test -- business plan. Doesn't work. The numbers just don't work Brian I think unless test against the mark after -- -- -- in bad -- in fact in -- -- most recent filing with the securities exchange commission ABC news and the Center for Public Integrity found this statement that the company expects continuing losses for at least the foreseeable future. If you don't make a profit -- repay the loan. But we will make a profit. That's the plan and were executed despite which -- it's yours changed. Despite what -- certain securities exchange. The bottom line is that such startup companies are inherently by their nature risky business. Nothing's guaranteed other than the fact that there will be winners and there will be losers. Joining me now to discuss the story is math mosque. Part of our ABC news investigative team out of Washington who has -- our investigative efforts. Matt what do you make about this fact that these are by their nature risky investments so what's the big deal. Well Brian this is really -- for federal government to essentially get into the venture capital game. And you're right it's extremely high risk some 80% of these investments are likely to fail. And the question is is there the political well to support something like this. If the cause is good and President Obama said in his State of the Union Address. The goal is to get more electric cars on the road and so they're investing money to see if that can happen. When private investors put their money and they may not win every time but when they do hit one -- big. What's the return for the federal government of one of these investment turn out to be very successful. -- the return for the federal government. Is more electric cars on the road there's no financial win for the government. So really what they're doing is they're saying we're gonna put a billion dollars. Plus into these electric car companies -- and -- hope that they hit it big. If they fail the government is out a considerable amount of money. If they win the government doesn't -- any financial benefit but they reap the policy benefit of seeing more electric cars on the road. This has become a very partisan issue with the Democrats now saying that the investigation. In some of these loans to be expanded to loans made under the Bush Administration -- -- more about that. Right well where this started was with the failure of the solar energy company Solyndra. Congress and panel hearings they've. Subpoenaed documents from the White House and what they're showing is there was really internal disputes over how much money should be invested -- whether these investments were wise. What the Democrats in the house are saying is let's look back at the Bush Administration they issued loans to start up companies let's see how that hasn't done. And in both cases our politics at play in other words were people who were supporters. Of the Bush Administration getting loans over Democrats and vice president in this administration. Well really that's the big question there is a policy they're there can be a policy disagreement over whether or not. Investments of this sort are a good idea for the federal government but the real question is when they were picking the companies that we're gonna get the federal money. Was their political influence involved and that's really what congress wants to look at. And so far it will our investigation the senate Republicans I agree what would you say is the bottom line answer to that question. Well I think what we know is that the companies that were picked. Do you have strong political ties we looked at Fister and Tesla to start up auto companies competing. Among nine. And these companies -- current -- both had strong ties to the Obama administration we're talking about people involved in the president's fundraising. Even vice former vice president Al Gore sits on the board of the venture capital firm that has state the company Tesla so. There are ties -- question is was influenced used in order for these companies to get -- That -- thank you very much and of course the White House has denied there was any political influence involved in any of the decisions. We'll be staying on the story and others and abcnews.com. Just click on the investigative -- That's where you can also send a tip to our investigative team if you know somebody you think needs a closer look. For up to the minute breaking news headlines you can follow me and the ABC news investigative team on FaceBook and Twitter. That's all the time we have for today thanks for watching. I'm Brian Ross.

This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.

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