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Government program that loaned billions to Tesla, Fisker restarting

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Ringo H.W. Chiu/AP/File

(Read caption) A guest test drives Tesla Motors' new version of its Model S sedan, the P85D, in Hawthorne, Calif. The Department of Energy's $25 billion Advanced Technology Vehicle Manufacturing (ATVM) program, which granted loans to Tesla and Fisker, is set to restart, providing support to automakers with the goal of producing more energy-efficient vehicles.

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It's baaaaaaaaack.

The U.S. Department of Energy's $25 billion low-interest loan program may be about to start awarding new loans.

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The DoE's Advanced Technology Vehicle Manufacturing (ATVM) program endured intense political criticism for funding not only electric-car maker Tesla Motors but also Fisker Automotive, on which it ultimately lost $139 million.

Tesla, on the other hand, paid off its entire loan in May 2013, several years early, using the proceeds from issuing more stock.

The ATVM program awards low-interest loans to assist companies in producing vehicles with substantially higher energy efficiency than the models they replace.

It also notably loaned $5.9 billion to Ford, within a few months of the time that the U.S. government bailed out and restructured its domestic competitors General Motors and

Chrysler. Those funds were largely used to expands the company's production of downsized, turbocharged EcoBoost engines.

And it also loaned $1.6 billion to Nissan, which used the funds to add Leaf electric-car production to its assembly plant in Smyrna, Tennessee, along with a new and adjacent plant for lithium-ion cell fabrication.

But there have been no new loans since late 2011, and more than $15 billion remains allocated to the program.

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Meanwhile, several startup carmakers that had pinned their hopes on those loans--among them Aptera, Bright, and VPG--have since failed.

The new loans, according to a report Tuesday in The Detroit News, are likely to go not to carmakers but to parts suppliers.

One or two new loans are expected to be announced this year, according to Peter W. Davidson,executive director of the DoE's Loan Programs Office.

Among the areas cited for investment are lighter-weight materials for vehicles.

The newspaper noted that in May, the Department posted a document on its website that revealed it had completed an environmental review of a loan to Alcoa, the large aluminum maker.

It supplies Ford with aluminum for the all-new 2015 Ford F-150 full-size pickup truck, whose cab and pickup bed are made of the lightweight metal.