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Chrysler, Tesla Exchange Payback Snipes on Social Media

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Chrysler and Tesla Motors, both led by media-savvy executives, are trading public jabs over the definition of payback.

When Tesla wired $452 million Wednesday to repay the remaining portion of its Department of Energy loan (with interest), it described itself as "the only American car company to have fully repaid the government."

(Read More: Tesla Repays Loan from Federal Program)

Chrysler's snappy rejoinder came four hours later: "Not exactly, Tesla."

In 2009, Tesla won a federal loan as part of a DOE program to promote advanced-vehicle development. That same year, the U.S. and Canadian governments shored up Chrysler with billions of dollars of loans to prevent its collapse.

Chrysler, now majority-owned by Italian automaker Fiat, repaid $7.6 billion in federal loans in 2011. Tesla's "information is unmistakably incorrect," Chrysler said in a blog post. "Question: short memory or short-circuit?"

Sergio Marchionne has led both Fiat and Chrysler since 2009, and many analysts credit his hands-on and outspoken style as critical to the latter's success.

The same can be said about Elon Musk, Tesla's CEO since October 2008. He regularly uses Twitter to tout the company's achievements or to spar with electric car naysayers.

Musk took to the social media website Thursday to defend his company's press release. Chrysler could not be counted as a U.S. car company because it is a division of Fiat, he said, and it has never fully repaid its loans.

The Treasury Department committed a total of $12.5 billion to Chrysler. Its "good" assets were used to form the current company, while billions of dollars of federal loans were left to another entity called "Old Chrysler."

The government recouped about $11.2 billion of its funds; the department said two years ago that it is unlikely to fully recover $1.3 billion owed by Old Chrysler.

"More importantly, Chrysler failed to pay back $1.3B," Musk said on Twitter. "Apart those 2 points, you were totally 1st."

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