What a difference a few years makes.

Startup electric-car maker Tesla Motors [NSDQ:TSLA] said it will repay its $465 million in low-interest loans from the U.S. Department of Energy five years earlier than originally scheduled.

The news came yesterday in the company's annual report.

Sourcing Tesla CFO Deepak Ahuja, Bloomberg reports that Tesla will accelerate payments starting in 2015, completing payment in December 2017 with a balloon payment if necessary.

The loan agreement with the DoE, the company said, had been modified to reflect the accelerated repayment. The original loan was to have been repaid by 2022.

One reason for Tesla to pay off the loans is that starting in 2018, the Energy Department can exercise warrants to purchase up to 3 million shares of Tesla Motors at a substantial discount.

Presidential debate fodder

The DoE advanced-technology loan program proved to be a contentious issue in the 2012 presidential election.

Losing Republican candidate Mitt Romney calling Tesla and Fisker 'loser' companies, both in the first debate in early October, and then slamming them again in the final debate.

Tesla is now shipping roughly 1,000 Model S electric luxury sport sedans each month, perhaps more, to buyers in the U.S. and Canada.

The $465 million sum was one of three low-interest loan awards announced with great fanfare in June 2009 by U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu.

Tesla's total was by far the smallest of the three, though the only one to go to a startup in that round.

Nissan received $1.6 billion to create a lithium-ion cell fabrication facility and start building Leaf electric cars at its Smyrna, Tennessee, assembly plant.

Production of lithium-ion cells started in December, and the first 2013 Nissan Leaf rolled off the line in January (though Nissan used only $1.4 billion of its loan).

Lion's share of loans to Ford

By  far the largest share of the DoE's advanced-technology vehicle manufacturing program loans, $5.9 billion, went to Ford.

That company, in fact, totals two-thirds of all funds granted through the program, which is now effectively frozen despite having disbursed only $9 billion of the $25 billion allocated by Congress in 2008 after the program was approved in 2007.

Ford's loans have gone largely to advance the rollout pace of its EcoBoost line of downsized, turbocharged engines.

Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk at Motor Trend 'Car of the Year' ceremony in New York City, Nov 2012

Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk at Motor Trend 'Car of the Year' ceremony in New York City, Nov 2012

Fisker flounders

Another startup, Fisker Automotive, got $529 million that November, though disbursements were later frozen after Fisker missed numerous deadlines.

With production of its $106,000 Karma range-extended electric luxury sedan halted last summer after battery supplier A123 Systems declared bankruptcy, Fisker is now seeking either additional funding or a purchaser.

Tesla's CEO, Elon Musk, said in a recent conference call that the company expects to be profitable for the first quarter of this year, three quarters ahead of the previous schedule.

Tesla stock has risen since the company's successful initial public offering, closing yesterday at $38.23--more than double its $17 launch price in June 2010.


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