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Tesla Set to Repay $465 Million in Fed Loans

With his company's stock surging, Tesla Motors CEO expects to use the potentially $1 billion windfall from a new stock offering to both pay off the maker's $465 million in Department of Energy loans—and to help fund additional products needed to help the California battery-car maker expand.

Tesla Motors S Model
Source: Teslamotors.com
Tesla Motors S Model

CEO Elon Musk, a fan of using tweets to signal his plans, is broadly hinting he will formally announce the payoff of the loans tomorrow.

Such a move, coming nine years ahead of schedule, could save Tesla significant interest costs even as taxpayers receive as much as a $12 million profit.

That would provide the Obama Administration a rare success in the highly controversial DOE loan program.

"Given govt loan repayment this week (prob Wed), Supercharger update will be next week," Musk said in his tweet.

Tesla recently reversed course, announcing plans for a new stock offering that initially was expected to generate around $800 million in cash. But with the Palo Alto-based firm's shares surging from around $34 a share to over $92 since March, Tesla plans to boost the size of the offering by 30 percent, or to more than $1 billion.

Along with paying off the DOE loan, Musk has suggested he would like to put some cash to developing additional products.

The current Model S sedan will be joined by the Model X crossover in 2014. He has long promised to introduce a smaller, less expensive vehicle that could increase Tesla sales significantly by targeting a more mainstream market segment. But Musk recently also dropped hints of other options, perhaps even an electric pickup truck.

Tesla's upcoming stock offering follows a string of successes for the company.

The Model S has won a variety of kudos and was recently given one of the highest ratings ever by Consumer Reports magazine, 99 points out of a possible 100.

(Read more at The Detroit Bureau: Consumer Reports' review of the Tesla Model S)

That is expected to give further momentum to sales that already well exceeded Tesla's initial expectations—helping deliver a first-quarter profit—Tesla's first ever—of $11.2 million on revenue of $561.8 million.

(Read more at The Detroit Bureau: More on Tesla's First-Ever Profit and Plans)

Sales could grow significantly, Musk has indicated, with the launch of sales in Europe and Asia during the third quarter of this year—and then with the addition of the Model X on track to debut during the final quarter of 2014.

Musk has repeatedly turned to Twitter and other social networks to build momentum—announcing a variety of moves aimed at building customer loyalty and confidence—no mean feat considering the general skepticism about battery propulsion.

Among the recent moves: a hybrid loan/lease program allowing buyers to return their Tesla vehicles for a guaranteed value, and a no-fault warranty program for the Model S battery pack.

(Read More: Tesla Alters Financing Program to Silence Critics)

Despite Musk's unbridled optimism, there remain plenty of skeptics, and perhaps for good reason considering the problems facing the nascent battery-car market as a whole.

Two other California start-ups have collapsed in recent weeks, little Coda filing for Chapter 11 protection and senior company officials suggesting Fisker Automotive could follow that path during hearings on Capitol Hill earlier this spring.

Despite drawing down $192 million of a larger loan from the DOE, Fisker has so far sold only about 2,500 Karma plug-in hybrids and has no cash left to finish development of the second, more mainstream model it hoped would buoy its balance sheet.

(Read more at The Detroit Bureau: The latest on Fisker's Folly)

Skeptics note that despite Tesla's recent successes, all plug-in vehicles combined now account for barely 0.5 percent of the total U.S. new vehicle market.

Even adding in more conventional hybrids, such as the Toyota Prius, the figure is still barely 3 percent. But proponents hope that with more products coming to market, and with a rapid increase in the number of public charging stations, demand could grow substantially over the next several years.

(Read more at The Detroit Bureau: The 100,000th Plug-In Vehicle Is Sold in the U.S.)

Fisker's impending collapse—it has already dismissed three-quarters of its staff—has put the spotlight on the DoE loan program which was intended to help encourage the development of low-emission, high-mileage vehicles.

There have been several other notable failures, including the bankruptcy of lithium-ion battery supplier A123.

(Read More: Fisker Fires Most of Its Rank-and-File Employees)

But the White House is likely to point to Tesla's early payback as a counterpoint, a much-needed success story.

-Paul A. Eisenstein contributed to this report; Follow him on Twitter @DetroitBureau

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