{{show_title_date || "How Tesla’s success is rewriting the future for electric cars, 5/30/13, 11:06 PM ET"}}

Tesla Motors pays off its government loan…nine years early


Throughout the last election–most notably in the vice presidential debate–Paul Ryan rebuked President Obama for what he called “$90 billion of green pork to campaign contributors and special interest groups.” Ryan was referring to the loans the federal government gave through the Department of Energy to pioneers of green tech like electric car manufacturer Tesla Motors, which repaid its own $456 million loan in full last Wednesday, nine years early.

“It turns out that if you give a bunch of intelligent innovators the seed money to conduct innovative research, the innovators will sometimes successfully innovate,” said msnbc’s Lawrence O’Donnell on the Rewrite Thursday.

Tesla is riding a meteoric rise in stock value. Company shares have more than tripled in price since the first of the year, gaining 14% on Tuesday alone to close at $110.33. CEO Elon Musk (also the owner of SpaceX, a private space transport company) has used profits from the surge to pay off the U.S. Energy Department’s loan, in part by buying $100 million of the stock himself.

Tesla’s first available sedan is the Model S, a sleek all-electric vehicle capable of going 265 miles on a single charge, the greatest range of any electric car on the market. It has a base price of $69,000 and the first run of 21,000 units sold out almost immediately. On Wednesday, the company announced that it will increase its number of supercharger stations from 8 to 25 by the middle of summer, allowing drivers to travel the full distance from New York City to Los Angeles.

Despite Tesla’s success, some Republicans seem intent on focusing on the federal government’s less profitable investments. “When they’re picking all these losers, it’s nice for them to have one where they can point to,” Representative Jim Jordan said.

“Essentially, then, the Republican argument against clean-energy loan programs is: ‘If any of the investments fail, then the entire program is a failure.’” O’Donnell said, adding: “To the investor out there who has never made a losing investment, I salute you and implore you to let me, the government and the whole rest of the world in on your secrets.”

O’Donnell noted that even Warren Buffett, the most successful investor in history, has made bad bets, that Babe Ruth only had a .342 batting average, and Muhammad Ali lost five times. Loss is a part of investment: one only hopes the winners outnumber the losers in the end.

“Clean-energy loan programs are a bet on the future,” he said. “And if we won’t bet on the future, then soon enough we’ll have nothing left to do but fold.”