Tesla: 'Loser' Along With Ener1, Solyndra, And Fisker, Romney Says

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Mitt Romney

Mitt Romney

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Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney has weighed in with his verdict on startup electric-car maker Tesla Motors: It's a "loser."

So, for that matter, is another startup that's still in business, Fisker Automotive.

The two car companies were lumped in with a pair of bankrupt businesses, lithium-ion cell maker Ener1 (which was later refinanced) and solar-panel maker Solyndra.

All four companies received loans or grants from the Department of Energy and other agencies during the Obama presidency.

Romney said, responding to Obama's suggestion that tax breaks for the oil and gas industry be eliminated:

... don't forget, you put $90 billion, like 50 years' worth of breaks, into -- into solar and wind, to Solyndra and Fisker and [Tesla] and Ener1.

I mean, I had a friend who said you don't just pick the winners and losers, you pick the losers, all right?

So this -- this is not -- this is not the kind of policy you want to have if you want to get America energy secure.

(Editor's note: The ABC News transcript of the debates had rendered Tesla as "Tester.")

Romney returned to the theme a second time, without naming the companies specifically:

You put $90 billion into -- into green jobs. And I -- look, I'm all in favor of green energy. $90 billion, that would have -- that would have hired 2 million teachers. $90 billion.

And these businesses, many of them have gone out of business, I think about half of them, of the ones have been invested in have gone out of business.

A number of them happened to be owned by people who were contributors to your campaigns.

[UPDATE: Michael Grunwald, senior national correspondent at Time Magazine, tweeted today that the Romney campaign told him the candidate "didn't mean to say that half the stimulus-funded green firms failed." He posits that the correct figure is probably about 1 percent.]

[UPDATE 2: The correct number appears to be 9 percent, not 50 percent.]

While clearly Ener1's bankruptcy and the collapse of Solyndra would likely qualify those companies as losers, the case for Fisker and especially Tesla seems less clear.

Fisker Automotive is still in business, still shipping its Karma range-extended electric luxury sedan, and just closed a new $100 million round of private financing.

Under a new CEO, Tony Posawatz, it is proceeding with development of its next product, the mid-size Atlantic sedan, and exploring alliances with strategic partners in the auto industry.

And Tesla Motors [NSDQ:TSLA] is now delivering dozens, perhaps even hundreds, of its new 2012 Model S all-electric sport sedans to the list of more than 10,000 depositors who've put down up to $50,000 to reserve cars when they are available.

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Barack Obama

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We reached out to both Tesla and Fisker for their reactions, if any.

Tesla spokeswoman Christina Ra responded that the company did not have a comment.

Fisker spokesman Roger Ormisher responded, "We don’t consider ourselves a loser, having sold 1,500 cars already and raised over $1.2 billion of private equity."

The company, he continued, is "now expanding our export markets to [the Middle East] and China, [so] we believe that is a quite an achievement for a small American business."

But what do you think: Is this just the usual election-year hyperbole of presidential politics, or could it have an effect on public perception of the two startup plug-in carmakers?

Are Romney's comments justified, or do they betray a lack of understanding of the green-technology world?

Leave us your thoughts in the Comments below.

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