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Tesla CEO Musk Says U.S. ‘Bullish’ on Electric-Car Maker

Tesla Motors Inc. (TSLA), the maker of electric cars led by Elon Musk, said it’s making its first payment early on U.S. Energy Department loans the California startup used to engineer and produce the Model S sedan.

Tesla, which qualified for $465 million in U.S. loans in June 2009, last week said in a filing that the Energy Department requested a faster repayment schedule by Oct. 31 as it expands sales of the $57,400 Model S and additional all-electric cars. The Palo Alto, California-based company was “happy” to oblige, Musk said yesterday.

“Far from being worried about our survival, the DOE is highly bullish about our future and doesn’t want us to delay early repayment of the loan if we have the cash on hand to do so,” Musk said in a blog post on the company’s website. “I am happy to announce that we will be initiating an advance payment today to prefund the principal payment that is due in March 2013.”

The Energy Department is working with Tesla to accelerate its repayment schedule, Bill Gibbons, a department spokesman, said in an e-mail. ’’Tesla continues to make loan payments on time and in full,’’ he said.

The loan program used by Tesla, Fisker Automotive Inc., Ford Motor Co. (F) and Nissan Motor Co. (7201) was created in 2008 by President George W. Bush’s administration to spur a U.S. market for highly fuel-efficient cars and trucks. Money was disbursed by President Barack Obama, who set a goal of having 1 million electric vehicles on U.S. roads by 2015.
‘Crony Capitalism’

Musk announced the early repayment hours before Obama and Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney held their first debate in Denver. The automotive loan program, as well as the bailouts of General Motors Co. (GM) and Chrysler Group LLC, have been topics of conversation on the campaign trail this year, with Romney in March calling Tesla and Fisker beneficiaries of Obama’s “crony capitalism.”

Tesla said last week it was asked to submit a modified repayment schedule by Oct. 31. The company and the Energy Department will develop a prepayment plan over the next few months that’s in the interest of both sides, said Christina Ra, a company spokeswoman.

Republican vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan in a CBS News interview last month criticized loans to Fisker, which has delayed producing a car in the U.S. Ryan didn’t mention Tesla or other vehicle-loan recipients.

Musk, in a June speech at the company’s production plant, said a Romney victory would have a “minor impact” on the U.S. electric car market because “there’s such momentum behind electric vehicles.”

The carmaker named for inventor Nikola Tesla is working to become profitable from selling vehicles propelled by lithium-ion battery packs. Tesla’s Musk said yesterday the carmaker expects to be “cash flow positive” by the end of November.


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