Thursday in DC: DOE Chief to Deliver Green Car Loan Announcement

For at least one green car maker out there, tomorrow may be the lucky day. According to a press advisory from the Department of Energy today, Secretary Steven Chu will — drumroll please — “make a loan announcement” related to the agency’s advanced technology vehicle loan program at noon (EST) Thursday at the Washington Auto Show.

This could go at least a couple of ways, with Chu either announcing the closure of one of the loans that the DOE agreed to last year on a conditional basis. A far more interesting option, of course, would be the announcement of a sixth loan recipient.

Between June and October of last year, the DOE announced conditional loan agreements with Tesla, Nissan, Ford, Fisker and parts maker Tenneco. No awards have been announced in the months since the program got a new director, a former venture capitalist brought on partly to help streamline the operations. So far, only Tesla and Ford’s loan agreements have been finalized.

Since the initial outpouring of awards, the dozens of projects seeking funding under the $25 billion Advanced Technology Vehicles Manufacturing loan program have been inching through the evaluation process.

Most recently, for example, the stealthy T. Boone Pickens and Kleiner Perkins-backed startup V-Vehicle entered the environmental assessment stage, according to local media reports yesterday. (Back in October 2009, the company said it expected an answer on the loan by November.)

Other companies vying for funds under the ATVM program include Ener1 (s HEV), which in March 2009 said it had progressed to the second stage — financial and technical viability — of a four-stage evaluation process. Last week a spokesperson for Ener1’s battery-making subsidiary, EnerDel, seemed confident that the company will receive funding under the program — just not the amount it originally requested.

Rather than a $480 million loan, spokesperson Rachel Caroll told us the company expects a total of $400 million in federal funds, including the still-pending loan and a $118.5 million stimulus grant awarded last year. We have not heard back from the company yet on our request today for an update.

Norwegian electric car maker Think, in which Ener1 holds a 31 percent stake, is also seeking ATVM funds to support set up of manufacturing for its electric Think City model in Elkhart, Indiana. Yesterday Think named Indiana-based EnerDel as its exclusive battery supplier for models sold in the U.S. through 2012 — a move that could check off one more box for Think’s ATVM application.

A Think spokesperson told us today the arrangement “provides EnerDel with an identified market customer and volume assurance for their lithium ion battery pack and helps us control manufacturing costs.” That could potentially help both company’s bids for government funds.

The raft of other companies hoping for funds under the ATVM program also includes Bright Automotive, Aptera and Chrysler. The latter and largest of those three told the Detroit News late yesterday that it expects the loan this year. But hey, we don’t have a crystal ball — we’ll let you know tomorrow what the Secretary has to say.