Why would the Department of Energy give half a billion dollars to Tesla?
I understand Ford. Ford has many projects, such as GTDI and electrification, that can be filed under CAFE compliance.
Nissan was moneyed to show that there is no favoritism to domestic brands, and to spread some joy down south, to soften the stance of the anti-union and anti-Detroit politicans.
But Tesla is puny, until recently a financial disaster. And what it is building now is a toy for the very rich. The Model S is projected to sell for a price around $57,000, which is certainly cheaper than the Tesla Roadster, but hardly affordable for the average person. Call it a toy for the slightly rich.
What Tesla has accomplished with the Roadster is impressive, but it is not revolutionary. Battery packaging, charging control, DC motors, these have been understood for a long time. What Tesla accomplished was to do a nice job integrating an electric powertrain into an already mature vehicle platform, the Lotus Elise. Chrysler can come along and replicate the achievement fairly quickly with their Dodge Circuit, using A123 battery systems. Magna can do the same with the hoary old NA Ford Focus.
With the Model S, Tesla is trying to step into the world of the big boys, developing a new mid-size vehicle platform. They will be responsible for tooling and assembly process, crash worthiness, NVH, durability, and the thousands of other requirements that go into building a car. It's a huge learning curve. The DOE would be better off giving the money to someone who already knows how to do it.
I suspect the real reason Tesla was given a loan was to throw some Obama love to California, with its rabidly green congress members.
I predict the taxpayers are going to get cleaned out on this particular deal.