Two years after the announcement of the biggest economic news to come to Delaware, there are national media reports questioning whether federal money is being used to start up Fisker Automotive.
The General Motors plant today and two years ago. Vice President Joe Biden was among those who praised the arrival of Fisker Automotive to save car manufacturing jobs in Delaware. A look at the plant today does not show much activity now. The company says production will begin a year from now.
ABC News partnered with the Center for Public Integrity to do a series of reports that aired on various broadcasts over Thursday and Friday. It pointed to over $500 million in U.S. Energy Department loans for Fisker to build new-age fuel efficient cars.
The failed new energy company, Solyndra, is also casting a shadow over Fisker Automotive and other new technology companies. The ABC News report raised questions about how federal dollars are being spent in getting the Fisker assembly line up to speed in the old Boxwood Road GM plant in Delaware.
The report points to a General Accounting Office report saying there is not enough oversight on how the money is being spent. The GAO report also states there aren’t enough trained engineers who can analyze whether companies like Fisker and its chief competitor, Tesla Motors, are spending money appropriately.
ABC News focuses on the one Fisker assembly line already running in Finland. Some of those federal energy dollars were used on design plans. ABC interviewed Fisker head, Henrik Fisker who assured reporter Brian Ross the federal money was not being used to pay workers at the plant.
There is a tone of skepticism in both reports about whether there could be another company that fails despites federal backing. The Center for Public Integrity report quotes experts who question the use of federal money. “I think we’ll absolutely end up having our version in the transport world based on the way the DOE has, and seems to be executing its loan program without enough veteran diligence in the process,” said Chelsea Sexton, an industry expert and advocate for alternative fuel vehicles. The web report does quote others who believe that Fisker or Tesla have a good chance to do well in the field. Delaware officials have always made the point that they sought to bring Fisker to the state because of its future potential to bring new manufacturing jobs with it.
Delaware has money tied to Fisker as well.
The state of Delaware has a big stake in Fisker’s success. Part of the deal struck in October 2009 was a $9 million grant that would off set utility charges while Fisker started the necessary changes needed to change the assembly process from what was left behind with General Motors to the Fisker assembly line. To date the state has paid $5 million, according to Governor Jack Markell’s office.
The state has also invested another $12.5 million in a loan to Fisker that will be converted to a grant if hiring goals are met. There have been 100 people hired so far in 2011. The goal is over 2,000 workers to be in place by 2013.
When Fisker will have their compact car the Nina available has come under question this week. The News Journal reported this week production was now being pushed back from the fall of 2012 to the spring of 2013. A Fisker spokesman told Fox Business Network what the company meant to say was that full distribution would not begin until 2013. The spokesman said the company was still on track to begin production a year from now.
The Delaware facility looks about the same as it did when General Motors shut down the plant in July 2009. The water tower still has the GM logo. There are padlocks on the fences where hundreds of workers used to work.
The car being produced in Finland is the Karma. The first of those vehicles have arrived in the United States. Senator Tom Carper (D-Del.) was among the first people to test drive one last month at Union Park Auto in Wilmington.