Former Vice President Al Gore's campaign to save the planet from global warming has netted him a Nobel Peace Prize, an Academy Award and now $529 million in taxpayer money.
The federal government has loaned $529 million to Fisker Automotive Inc., a small car company backed by Gore to help build a hybrid sports car in Finland that will sell for about $89,000, the Wall Street Journal reported.
Fisker isn't the only automaker to reap millions from Uncle Sam. Tesla Motors Inc., which offers a $109,000 British-built electric Roadster, received a $465 million government loan. Tesla is a California startup that focuses on all-electric vehicles. It has won a number of celebrity endorsements and is backed by investors that have contributed to Democratic campaigns.
Critics question why vehicles aimed at the wealthiest customers are getting loans subsidized by taxpayers.
"This is not for average Americans," Leslie Paige, a spokeswoman for Citizens Against Government Waste, told the newspaper. "This is for people to put something in their driveway that is a conversation piece. It's a status symbol thing."
But Energy Department officials insisted that the loans were awarded only after a "detailed technical review" concluded the companies could eventually deliver a highly fuel-efficient hybrid car to a mass audience.
The government loans come from a $25 billion program established by Congress in 2007 to help automakers invest in the technology to meet a new congressional mandate to improve fuel efficiency. The Energy Department awarded the first $8 billion from the program to Ford Motor Co., Nissan Motor Co., and Tesla, which are all developing electric cars.