The U.S. Department of Energy yesterday approved a $529 million low-interest loan to Fisker Automotive, which will start building its 2010 Fisker Karma plug-in hybrid luxury sports sedan later this year. Customer deliveries will start next May.

In June, Tesla Motors received a $465 million loan for production engineering and manufacturing of its own, all-electric 2010 Tesla Model S luxury sports sedan (after claiming as early as February that its application had been approved).

Both approvals were part of a $25 billion DoE program to extend low-interest loans to automakers and parts companies who retool existing plants to build advanced-technology vehicles whose fuel efficiency is at least 25 percent better than current cars.

The first round of awards, in June, was granted to Ford, Nissan, and Tesla, for a total of $8 billion in loans. Among other components for development are the expensive lithium-ion cells used in the large battery packs required in both cars.

Fisker's loan will fund both engineering integration work on the Fisker Karma, and development of its next vehicle, a less-expensive plug-in hybrid family sedan known as "Project Nina". The second car is planned for U.S. production; the Karma will be built in Finland.

Much of Fisker's engineering and design work will be done at its facility in Pontiac, Michigan, although its headquarters are in Irvine, California. The state of Michigan has its own program of tax abatements and grants to retain and attract vehicle and parts makers.

The DoE said in its press release that the Fisker loans will save or create roughly 5,000 jobs at U.S. parts makers.  Thousands more would result if the Project Nina plug-in hybrid goes into production in the States.

While Fisker and Tesla get the most media attention, their loans are fairly small. Ford actually got 10 times as much, $5.9 billion, to make its EcoBoost turbocharged gasoline direct-injection engines available in all of its volume vehicles by 2015.

As before, we feel we should point out that no journalist has yet driven the 2010 Fisker Karma. In fact, the company only debuted the Karma running under its own power at the Laguna Seca racetrack last month.

[Detroit News]