Tesla’s Musk Promises to Halve Loan Payback Time to DOE, Jokes About ‘Times’ Feud

Tesla CEO Elon Musk offered a sort of parting gift to Energy Secretary Steven Chu Tuesday, as the pair were about to conclude a session at the ARPA-E Energy Innovation Summit near Washington, D.C.

Asking for a for a bit more time to make an announcement, Musk first said he thought the Department of Energy’s 2009 loan to the California-based electric carmaker had been a success. “We’re exporting cars, we’re selling powertrains to two of the most respected brands in the world … an electric car won Car of the Year last year. I mean, this is pretty good stuff,” Musk said of Tesla.

“So if people are going to attack the DOE for bloody Solyndra—honestly—then there should be some praise for the DOE when there is a success. So I want to make a public commitment, and we’re going to codify it, that Tesla’s going to cut the payment time in half of the loan.”

Last fall, the DOE asked Tesla to work out a faster repayment schedule for the $465 million loan, which it made to the company in 2009. The company agreed, speeding up the first payment, which was originally due this March. Musk’s commitment at ARPA-E cuts the overall payback time of 10 years by half.

Chu, who announced this month that he is stepping down as secretary, just smiled as the audience applauded.

Musk was also able to joke about his recent,  heated flap with The New York Times over its account of a test drive that ended with Tesla’s Model S on the back of a flatbed truck. (See related post: “In Tesla Motors-NYT Spat, Cold Realities About Electric Cars.“) That piece sparked a war of words (and driving logs) between Musk and the reporter, John Broder.

Atlantic editor Steve Clemons, who moderated the session with Chu and Musk, noted that Musk’s first foray into business was the software company Zip2, in which the Times invested. “You actually helped take The New York Times online,” Clemons said.

“I think that’s called being hoisted on your own petard,” Musk replied.

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, BP Capital founder T. Boone Pickens and others are appearing at the three-day ARPA-E (Advanced Research Projects Agency – Energy) summit, which also spotlights a variety of projects the agency has funded. (See related story: “Storage, Biofuel Lead $156 Million in Energy Research Grants.”) The creation of ARPA-E was authorized by Congress in 2007 and it began funding projects in 2009.