The U.S. Energy Department will announce today plans to loan aluminum producer Alcoa Inc. $259 million to expand production of lightweight materials for vehicles at its Tennessee plant, according to the Detroit News.
The loan will be the first new award in four years from the $25 billion program Congress established for the beleaguered auto industry in 2007.
The administration's support for the Alcoa project comes as automakers race to add more aluminum components to meet new fuel-efficiency requirements. Aluminum vehicle bodies let drivers opt for larger vehicles that get better gas mileage.
Alcoa's expansion of its East Tennessee operations come as Ford Motor Co. boosts production of its new aluminum-intensive F-150 truck and other car makers look for aluminum alternatives to heavier steel.
The Detroit News learned details of the DOE loan before the announcement from both Alcoa and the Energy Department.
Energy officials told the Detroit newspaper they expect the Alcoa loan won't be the last from the Advanced Technology Vehicles Manufacturing program.
In a Detroit News interview, Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz said the department has been in "very, very active early-stage discussions with potential applicants." He said more loans may be forthcoming, declining to say how many current applicants the program is reviewing, but saying the government is "getting a lot of interest."
"I think we're on the right track," Moniz told the Detroit News, adding the auto loan program "is running on all cylinders. ... We are going to be very aggressive in terms of good projects — we're going to try to move them out." He emphasized the program is still accepting applicants and said he wants to be "on the offense" in providing new loans.