Car Battery-Maker’s Bankruptcy: `Loser’ Fodder for Romney Debate

Have Republicans finally found their electric-car “loser?”

Today’s bankruptcy filing by A123 Systems Inc. may give the Romney-Ryan campaign, just in time for tonight’s presidential debate, a company that fits the label that it’s tried to hang on other recipients of Obama administration financing to develop electric vehicles.

A123 got about $249 million in grants from President Barack Obama’s 2009 stimulus plan to build an electric-vehicle battery plant in Livonia, Michigan. The plant produced the defective battery packs for Fisker Automotive Inc.’s $103,000 Karma — its design financed by an Energy Department loan — that caused one of the cars to quit running during a road test by Consumer Reports.

The magazine’s testing editor subsequently called the Karma a “basket case.”

Fisker’s recall of the Karma to replace the bad battery packs cost A123 $55 million, leading to the financial drain that culminated in its bankruptcy filing. 

It also added collateral damage to Fisker’s self-inflicted wounds that prompted the Energy Department to freeze most of the company’s loan money last year. Fisker suspended work on reopening a former General Motors Co. plant in Vice President Joe Biden’s home state of Delaware to build its second model, a project that was supposed to create 2,000 jobs.

Republican Mitt Romney and running mate Paul Ryan have most often tagged Fisker with the loser label, with Ryan pointing out in last week’s vice presidential debate with Biden that the company’s loan money was used on a car that’s assembled in Finland. Romney has also mentioned Tesla Motors Inc., which has noted that it’s about to start repaying its Energy Department loans.

Romney, Ryan and members of Congress, including Rep. Cliff Stearns of Florida, have taken their shots at lumping various recipients of electric-vehicle financing together as “losers.” Most of those slams have been directed at which among them got about $1 billion in Energy Department loans to make luxury plug-in cars. It hasn’t necessarily stuck, particularly with Tesla, which has noted that it’s about to start repaying its loans early.

Angela Greiling Keane contributed to this report.  

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