President Obama’s alternative energy “stimulus,” administered through his Department of Energy by previous Secretary Steven Chu, had already become a joke because of the failures and foibles of so many recipients of Recovery Act funds. But now – as though officially commemorating the absurdity of this historically bad U.S. government program – one of its bankrupt beneficiaries has changed its name from one of simplicity to one of mockery.
“In parallel with the process of identifying a strategic partner, Fisker is, of course, continuing to manage its day-to- day operations and has recently instituted temporary furloughs for its U.S. workforce covering the final week of March,” the company said.
That’s according to a report published earlier this month by the Government Accountability Office, which reviewed DOE’s loan programs for a briefing to both the House and Senate’s Appropriations subcommittees on Energy. Amusingly though, the Web site of DOE’s Loan Programs Office still calls itself “The Financing Force Behind America’s Clean Energy Economy.” The minor blip that undermines that premise is that DOE is having trouble getting someone to borrow $55 billion.
For weeks now the buzz about Fisker Automotive, the latest Department of Energy-funded clunker, is that two China-based automotive companies – Zhejiang Geely Holding Group (which owns Volvo) and Dongfeng Motor Corp. (which is state-owned) – were in bidding negotiations to buy an ownership stake of an unknown size. The speculation was that Fisker was following a similar path as stimulus-financed A123 Systems, which supplied the batteries for Fisker and was recently bought by Sino-owned Wanxiang Group.
And now as the company desperately seeks for cash and/or a rescuer – probably in China – a disagreement arose between Fisker’s founder and its top management. So the man for whom the company was named, Henrik Fisker, quit. The Los Angeles Times and dozens of other outlets reported yesterday that Mr. Fisker left over disputes about “direction” for the company, citing “several major disagreements.”
Taxpayer-supported Tesla, recipient of a $465 million stimulus loan guarantee to produce yet another electric toy car (the Model S) for rich people, reported its 4th quarter earnings last week. The word from billionaire CEO Elon Musk (Flickr photo: Jurvetson) was, “we’ll do better next quarter – promise.”
Stimulus déjà vu-lishness lurks: Another “green” tech company that received hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars is financially troubled, seeks a buyer (or their preferred term – a “partner”), and China is ready to swoop in and buy up the remains on the cheap. And the same two Republican senators who slammed the last deal that went down like this are sickened again.
The employees of battery maker LG Chem still haven’t found anything to do worthy of their pay since they were caught playing games and watching videos four months ago, and now the Inspector General for the U.S. Department of Energy has embarrassed the company into returning some – but not much – of the $142 million (out of a $151 million grant) in taxpayer money they took.
Gregory Friedman released his report – which was based on an inquiry spurred by the original media stories in the fall about the mostly idle workers in Holland, Mich. – last week. Turns out the reports about workers on-the-clock playing Texas Hold ‘Em and video games, doing Sudoku and crossword puzzles, and volunteering at nonprofits like Habitat for Humanity, were not exaggerations.
Undoubtedly alternative energy and transportation innovator Elon Musk (Flickr photo: Jurvetson) – like his competitor for the taxpayer-funded, six-figure electric automobile market Henrik Fisker – is a smart guy. But will economic and technological realities humble him, or worse, make him look like a fool?
After the experience recounted last week by New York Times journalist John Broder, who test drove the Tesla Model S in frigid conditions that required frequent unplanned recharging stops throughout the Northeast, humility is out of the question for Musk. The jury is still out on inanity.