Romney Slams Tesla, Fisker Again In Final Presidential Debate

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Mitt Romney

Mitt Romney

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The CEOs of Tesla and Fisker may have thought they were home free--but it was not to be.

Both startup electric-car companies were named at the very end of last night's third and final presidential debate.

Republican candidate Mitt Romney didn't repeat his charge that Tesla Motors [NSDQ:TSLA] and Fisker Automotive were 'loser' companies--as he said in the first debate on October 3.

Instead, he took the line that government support for specific companies discouraged all investment in U.S. industry.

And some observers felt he moved beyond criticizing such support to conveying his contempt for plug-in electric cars in general.

Debate watchers among electric-car advocates took to Facebook and Twitter to express their shock over Romney's tone, as the candidate named "car companies like Tesla and...Fisker" that were making--in his words--"electric battery cars."

The topic of electric-car companies followed a recurring dispute over whether Romney's November 2008 editorial in The New York Times, entitled "Let Detroit Go Bankrupt," promised government support for automakers if they went through a conventional bankruptcy process.

Romney claimed he had advocated for such support; Obama disagreed, saying Romney would have "liquidated" the industry.

After Romney reiterated that he was in favor of government support of industry research, he turned to Tesla, Fisker, and also failed solar-panel maker Solyndra.

According to the complete debate transcript, he said:

I have the kind of commitment to make sure that our industries in this country can compete and be successful. We in this country can compete successfully with anyone in the world. And we’re going to.

We’re going to have to have a president, however, that doesn’t think that somehow the government investing in — in car companies like Tesla and — and Fisker, making electric battery cars — this is not research, Mr. President.

These are the government investing in companies, investing in Solyndra. This is a company. This isn’t basic research. I — I want to invest in research. Research is great. Providing funding to universities and think tanks — great.

But investing in companies? Absolutely not. That’s the wrong way to go.

Technically, the U.S. government has not "invested" in any of the named companies. It does not have an ownership share--unlike its equity holding in General Motors and, previously, Chrysler.

Instead, both car companies received low-interest loan guarantees from the U.S. Department of Energy under its Advanced Technology Vehicle Manufacturing program, launched in 2008 under the administration of President George W. Bush.

Barack Obama

Barack Obama

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Romney followed his criticism of Tesla and Fisker by reiterating that he "wanted to make America more competitive" and "do those things that make America the most attractive place in the world for entrepreneurs, innovators, businesses to grow."

He then said to Obama, "But your investing in companies doesn’t do that. In fact it makes it less likely for them to come here."

President Barack Obama did not respond specifically to the criticism of Tesla and Fisker.

Predictably, electric-car advocates reacted adversely to Romney's words.

"What I don't get is why, with all of the crazy things our taxpayer dollars get spent on, Romney keeps beating the Tesla drum," observed Tom Saxton of Plug-In America on Facebook.

In attacking Tesla, he said, the governor is "beating down a company that's developing new technology, creating American jobs, reinvigorating the American auto industry, and maybe leading us to an opportunity not to be so totally dependent on the world oil market."

"What I find interesting is he's alienated a lot of Republicans who support electric cars--and, yes, there are quite a few of them," commented electric-car advocate and Montclair, New Jersey, restauranteur Tom Moloughney.

"I personally know at least 10 people who are Republicans, who didn't vote for Obama in the last election, but are going to in this one because of Romney's stance on the issue."

Neither Tesla nor Fisker arose during the second presidential debate, and Fisker was only indirectly cited in the Ryan-Biden vice-presidential debate.


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Comments (53)
  1. This is complex and important issue, but I would like to pick up on one point.

    A lot of technology is developed with government support (R&D if you will) but the organization fails because there is a "gap" in funding between the initial government support and VC funding (which demands market readiness).

    This gap in funding is a frustration for many in government that nurture a technology (or product) along through the initial phases, only to see it disappear or be sold to foreign investors once the government funding runs out (but before it is ready for VC).

    I'm not saying added government funding is the only answer, but with limited funds, perhaps government needs to narrow the scope and make the funding longer lasting.

  2. John,

    I like reading your comments because even on the ones I don't personally agree with, I do agree they are well thought out and not just jabs at personalities.

    {BTW, I do not disagree here, I just wanted to say it's refreshing to see someone who is just not in the habit of making useless insults for entertainment.}

  3. Thanks for the kinds words.

  4. Well, government has always "picked" sides on R&D. Many of the technology used today are "political". We have ALWAYS mixed politics with technology. From WWI/II, race to space, star war projects to today's "green" projects (or other health care related R&D), they are all there to achieve certain government goals. To say that government should stay out of all "R&D" like many of the "small government" advocacy group is illogical.

    As far as your "scope" question. Well that has to do with "speed or results" desired. The more funding government provides, the faster some of the R&D will go. Personally, I think it is a good thing to spend few Billion on "green projects" and cut back few Trillions on wars.

  5. Look at the space race and how it help to spur technological growth in the microprocessor industry. Other countries will be investing in battery technology as well as solar panal technology. New liquid metal battery technology being developed by M.I.T professor Don Sadoway could revolutionize the electric grid by allowing better utilization and storage of renewable energy sorces. I feel the the USA needs to lead here in renewables since it will allow for lots of good paying jobs here in the the USA. Keep in mind as demand on the electric grid get greater with more electric cars being built we will need to have smart grids and these batteries will allow for large scale storage of electricity so we can intergrate renewables more effectively

  6. How is a loan an investment in a company if it has to be payed back and how is Fisker and Tesla not encouraging American industry? Teslas are built in California and Fisker was set to build in Delaware and is still looking to do so. Up until recently the most advanced hybrids were all Japanese. The most advanced EV right now is the California native Tesla Model S. Since California is nowhere near China I guess the only conclusion that I can draw from this is Mr. Romney's words are those given to him by the oil industry. If he gets elected we are going to see the US loose it's competitive edge, maybe the next presidential limo should be a Lexus.

  7. Stocks and bonds are both investments that people make, expecting (or hoping) to receive at some future date more than they originally paid. So yes, Romney was accurate by stating that the government invested in those companies.

    Stocks can be more lucrative, but between the two, bondholders get paid first if the company fails.

  8. @Joel: Not quite following your logic here. Loans cannot rise in value beyond the amount of the principal + stated interest. So there's no possibility of capital appreciation.

    Stocks and bonds, on the other hand, rise and fall in value and are traded on open markets where their values vary. That's why they are subject to different accounting rules than loans. And it's why they're considered "investments".

  9. I am not going to vote in the US election being a european guy, but I would like to thank Mr. Romney for the free publicity he gave to electric cars - if there were american (and may others) people unaware of what Tesla and Fisker stand for, now they know. It may be an attack, but it's really a free ad campaign for the electric mobility - and I'm sure there's going to be a lot of positive impact ;)

  10. The title is somewhat misleading: Romney didn't actually slam Tesla or Fisker, just the general principle of what he wrongly calls government "investment" in such companies.

    Which is ironic by the way: the Advanced Technologies Vehicle Manufacturing Program the EPA loans are based on was initiated by the Bush administration and not a penny from it has been awarded during the Obama administration.

    The idea that research grants are the way to go has long since been debunked. Companies need an incentive to actually bring something to the market or more often than not they will just pocket the cash and the patents and everything will stay the same. Loans and buyer subsidies are the way to go for those who really want change.

  11. Chris, your timeline is a bit off. Both Tesla and Fisker received DoE loan approvals after the President took office.

  12. Correct, while the $25 billion program was initiated by the Bush government the actual approval of the less than $9 billion that was ever granted (most of it to Ford) happened in the first 18 months of the Obama administration. None was awarded since.

  13. For the record, Ford got the lion's share of that $9 billion:

    and the last loan granted under the program went to VPG in February 2011:

  14. Ah, I Missed the Vehicle Production Group loan....that's what you get for trusting Wikipedia:

  15. John, Just for clarity, for those who do not understand the bankruptcy process, GM did go bankrupt in a Manhattan Court filing. The issue is how the stockholders and bondholders were handled post bankruptcy. In this case, the unions received unfair advantages compared to bondholders. This was the "bankruptcy issue". Every major airline has gone through bankruptcy with no disruption.

  16. Let's all cry for the poor millionaire stockholders and bondholders. "Boo, hoo, hoo".

  17. Perhaps next time, the bondholders won't demand a settlement that they were never going to get, too. Ridiculously unrealistic expectations of what GM could pay led to even more ridiculous demands by a small group of the creditors. That small group of creditors gambled and lost, big time, and their selfishness and shortsightedness is partially led to what happened.

    The union made off well, initially, but remember that they are also now paying much more of their own health care costs than before. Add in more than half of the jobs gone and a 30-40% pay cut before all this and you'd be accurate, for once. But admitting the union also paid quite a bit doesn't fit your anti-union theme, does it?

    The end wasn't ideal, but it wasn't that simple.

  18. "I personally know at least 10 people who are Republicans, who didn't vote for Obama in the last election, but are going to in this one because of Romney's stance on the issue."

    Yeah right...they were bigots (aren't all Republicans) who voted for McCain because he is whiter than white. Voting for a President based solely on his embracing or rejecting technology is pretty narrow-minded and shallow. The market will drive what cars will be successful. If our current President had his way, we would all be driving Trabants.

  19. @Randall: This is your friendly site moderator here (I also happen to have written the article).

    Please avoid blanket characterizations of entire groups of people in your comments on this site. Saying "all Republicans" are "bigots" is offensive to a substantial group of other readers. It doesn't advance factual, respectful conversation among all of us.

    Thanks in advance for considering your comments before you post. We appreciate your contributions.

  20. That was more sarcasm. I am tired of MY group being labelled as bigots, racists, etc. I was mocking the crop of democrats "crying wolf" by labelling everybody from the other side of the political spectrum a RACIST (Chris Matthews is STILL doing it). You just got trapped into admitting the obvious.

  21. @Randall: Either way, please *avoid* blanket labels on any group, OK?

  22. You can call them whatever you'd like Randall. I'm sure they don't mind. But the truth is these are registered Republicans that are voting Democratic, some for the first time in their lives because this issue is that important to them. Investing in American energy and cars that will run on either renewable energy or 100% domestic energy is a HUGE issue to a lot of folks and people are just as passionate about it as others are about abortion. They will not vote for someone that wants to keep America addicted to foreign oil. It weakens our country and cripples our economy. Sure we won't be energy independent for a long time, but if we don't start now we never will be. Like it or not, Romney's position on electric cars is costing him votes.

  23. What do you think that shutting down the Keystone pipeline is doing? WHO shut it down?? Renewable energy is nowhere close to being regarded as a reliable source of energy. In its current state, renewable energy is a pipe dream that should not factor into an election. ALL electric vehicles run off of electricity generated primarily with coal or natural gas (both domestic energy sources). Our beloved Fuhrer in Chief made this statement: "So, if somebody wants to build a coal plant, they can — it’s just that it will bankrupt them, because they are going to be charged a huge sum for all that greenhouse gas that’s being emitted." Doesn't sound like a person in favor of domestic energy to me.

  24. @Randall: We're all in favor of robust debate in the comments here on Green Car Reports. Points of view backed by *supporting links* are even better.

    Could I ask, however, that we avoid comparisons to Nazis? Especially when we refer to the democratically elected president of our country?

    Frankly, for at least some of our readers, I suspect that such inflammatory hyperbole serves to undercut the more serious points that you're trying to make.

    As always, I'd urge that we put ourselves in the opponent's shoes and speak to them as we would wish to be spoken to.

    Thanks in advance, and thank you for contributing to the discussion(s).

  25. But that analogy has become so vogue in the last 12 years. At least I was a tad more subtle than this:

    How about Emperor? That is softer tyranny. Either way, executive order is not meant for enforcing/not enforcing laws that the President disagrees with. That IS what tyrants do.

  26. @Randall: I don't really care what some blog published in August 2009 or whether it is or isn't in fashion to use Nazi analogies on political sites.

    It's not appropriate here, and please don't do it.

    I do rather like Emperor, though. Reminds me of the famous Henry Kissinger story.

  27. "Renewable energy is nowhere close to being regarded as a reliable source of energy. In its current state, renewable energy is a pipe dream."

    Tell that to Germany and Spain, countries which have made the move already to some extent. Germany provides about 25% of its power through renewables and makes billions more making the equipment and systems. But I know, just because we're America and have more resources at our disposal doesn't mean we should ever learn. I mean, that's what the constant wars are about, right? They're far more expensive, and far less efficient, than keeping energy resources at home wherever possible.

    Coal is already too expensive and can't compete no matter what, due to natural gas, not the President.

  28. "THE MOVE" has already been tried in Texas, and it did not work. Dallas moved a significant portion of its power supply to rely on wind power. Dallas has suffered black-outs as a result.

    Coal is expensive not because of availability, but because the exhaust has to be as clean as a natural gas plant. Yes everybody...coal plants are just as clean as natural gas plants. It is not trivial to clean up the exhaust of coal plants, but it is done. Try making as much juice as a coal plant with solar panels...that can't be done.

  29. (continued)
    If you eliminate coal and oil moved by pipelines such as Keystone and shut down power plants using domestic energy sources, what's left? Shall I set the clock?

    Time's up. Renewable energy won't cut it...trying to rely on RE WILL cripple the economy.

  30. By the way...the government should NOT be picking winners and losers in the economy. Neither candidate should be doing that. That is not the government's business.

  31. But they do with military contracts which is a HUGE and PROFITABLE industry...

    I do agree the renewable aren't ready yet. But it has to start somewhere and it is going to play supplemental roles for now...

  32. Please let us all know the next time your neighbor shows up with a M1A1 Abrams tank in his driveway. The government is the military contractor's ONLY customer. The government has to pick and choose the winners and losers to effectively do one of the government's PRIMARY jobs: serve the people with a military defense. The government is not serving the people by picking the winners and losers in private industry.

  33. What if the government decided to ban hybrids and EVs due to them competing with fighter aircraft for rare earth materials. This could legitimately be deemed a matter of national security by the government. That would throw a wrench in the whole farce of the zero emission commute real fast, wouldn't it.

  34. Comment disabled by moderators.

  35. Comment disabled by moderators.

  36. @Randall et al: Guys, I'm sorry, but we are NOT going to embark on a birther debate on Green Car Reports.

    I am deleting both of these comments and would ask that we stick to the topic of green cars in future.

  37. Ridiculous respons eand overreaction, John. In the context of what Randall commented, I simply pointed out that he doesn't like to be accused of bigotry for being a Republican, he might want to bring that up to the 30-40% of his fellow party members that, to this day, insist that the President is both not an American but not a Christian.

    There was no need to remove a reasonable point, John. You can do better than this hypersensitivity.

  38. I just wonder if those "debates" are actually swinging people one way or another. I would think that "most" voters would already have their decisions made by now.

    I am actually spending more time reading my local proposition and research on my local district elections...

  39. I don't think Gov. Romney has a hard spot for Tesla, Fisker, or EVs in general. I think what he is saying, in his opinion, is that as a matter of public policy, government should not be underwriting VC with taxpayer money.

  40. But Romney is okay with government funding defense research budgets that go to "established" companies and end up with nothing more than Billion dollar tax payer funded proto-types?

  41. The bottom-line is that Romney said something that is obviously not true to voters who know better based on their own personal daily experience.
    They have and drive plugin electric cars and have empirical results based on their own lives. They read and blog about plugin electric cars and take the time to educate themselves on the subject.
    So plugin car fans now know that they are being lied to and purposefully mislead by this man.
    That reason leads to the question: What else is he lying about? Everything?
    Can you trust a guy like that to do the right thing by you?

  42. It's just oil talking.... great article.


  43. Tesla and Fisker loans were not R&D...they were just that, "loans". Loans/investments to private or public companies by the Federal government should never happen, period. The companies either figure it out or go bankrupt. Which incidentally is what most of them do anyway AFTER getting a boondoggle loan from the government. The Federal Government has ALWAYS been a poor investor.

  44. Always, my, how short your memory is... The government invested in both GM and Chrysler and they're both profitable. Despite the claims of Mr. Romney, there was never going to be a private equity rescue since the financial markets were in worse shape, perhaps, than the automotive industry. The companies would have ceased to exist without the government stepping in, as even Bob Lutz, well-known Republican and GM executive has noted, despite still endorsing Mr. Romney.

    There are cases where government investment makes sense and I fail to see how anyone could see the GM/Chrysler investment as a bad thing. But let's be consistent and end defense R & D contracts with established companies, oil and farm subsidies, etc...

  45. I suspect Mr. Romney is disappointed he did not have the opportunity to scoop up a bankrupt GM for pennies on the dollar and sell the assets to Chinese companies at a hefty profit. Instead we now have a growing American company with the potential to fulfill some of its financial obligations.

  46. i for one am glad the debates are over. as being a member of society that opted out of cable tv years ago, i only "saw" the debates after they were rehashed or published on youtube. i will say that Romney's stance on many subjects has become confusing. not sure what he believes in...or what day of the week he believes it on

  47. When Mitt brought this up in the first debate it concerned me, but I thought he was speaking from ignorance just like most people. But to 'dis an innovative company that is creating hi-tech jobs here in the US is worse than out of touch. I see it as a role of the government to incubate just these kinds of industries.

    As fate would have it, Mitt is the uncle of a close family friend. Because of that link, I have gone out of my way to try and get on the Mitt train. There were other policies in his platform I was willing to overlook - it's not like I agree with all of Mr. Obama's policies, either.

    There isn't one specific reason why I won't vote for Mitt, but his repeated disrespect for the green car industry is in my top three reasons.

  48. Don't worry, Mr. Romney will come around as soon as Tesla's Limited Edition Limousine rolls off the Assembly line. Until then . . .

  49. It can always be said that R&D fully funded by the private sector is the better option. But from time the investment direction may be missing a part of the bigger picture. Occasionally, government is lobbied by academia and special interest groups to do catch-up, or just speed up, R&D in a specific areas. Financial incentives are usually all that will work. If there are companies that just milk a program like that, jail is good for them.
    Track Green of

  50. Although it seems OT, much of the discussion has drifted to the fact that "renewable energy" is inadequate to replace fossil fuels. I have to agree, but there is an extremely attractive alternative. Liquid Flouride Thorium Reactors can run on cheap (as in free) thorium, are inherently safe, and do not produce any long term radio-active waste. Here I define long term as greater than 300 years vs 10000 years for conventional nukes. Also the amount that would have to be stored for 300 years is a tiny fraction by comparison. Do check out and for more in depth

  51. If you have no planet, then you have no economy to protect. We MUST steer towards a sustainable lifestyle and approach. This is not a political issue. This is an issue of survival. Mark my words.

  52. Romney's economic policies are a decade old and proven wrong, his foreign policy is 4 decades old and his vision for the future is not for the USA, it is for himself and his rich friends.

  53. America, land of the free?
    Home of the brave! (Yes)
    Why would anybody vote for this guy?
    He goes whatever way the wind is blowing that day!
    He back tracks on positions he has held in the past and makes outlandish claims about his opponent, claims he knows how to fix the problems that Obama doesn't but who made this mess to start with? The "Republicans".
    America has to invest in emerging technologies and stop off shoring the jobs the they create.
    I don't mean to be a protectionist but hey we like our life style here and I for one only buy what is made in NAFTA and not some third world country that does not have the economy to support the same standards that we enjoy here in North America.
    Wasn’t Enron a Republican oil and gas company?

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