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3 Automakers Get Loans to Build More Efficient Cars

"We need to get new companies who are manufacturing vehicles in a different way," she said. "Tesla is focused on high-efficiency vehicles. It really has the possibility to drive technology forward."

Chu said these loans help the auto industry "meet and even exceed" President Obama's new fuel standards for cars, which will rise from 27.5 to 35 mpg by 2016.

The Energy Department is working with General Motors and Chrysler on their applications for these retooling loans. The process has stalled in recent months, as both automakers struggled to keep themselves afloat. The program dictates that companies must be "financially viable" to receive the loans, so the car companies would not qualify until they emerge from bankruptcy.

"We are trying to stretch the money as far as we can," Chu said.

But the program could grow. Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) said the energy and climate change bill currently being debated includes a provision to increase the program's funding to $50 billion.

"It matters where things are made," she said. "We don't want to create incentives for jobs to go overseas. We can do it in Michigan."

Yesterday, Rep. Gary Peters (D-Mich.) delivered a petition signed by 20,000 people to GM's headquarters urging the automaker to build its new line of small cars at its plant in Orion Township, Mich. By the end of this month, GM is expected to announce if it will use its facility there, or the one in Spring Hill, Tenn., or Janesville, Wis.


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