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Startup Fisker Automotive has produced a couple of prototype luxury vehicles that also happen to be good for the environment (at least in theory–more below). The federal government is stepping in to help bring them, and some cheaper family cars, to market.

The Department of Energy announced today it will give Fisker a conditional $528 million loan. The first $169.3 million will help with the engineering that still needs to be done before it can start manufacturing its $87,900 luxury sedan next summer. That’s something of a delay–Fisker had previously planned to start producing cars later this year.

The remaining money will be for a new project, called Project Nina, which will develop a $39,900 family sedan, Fisker Automotive says.

Both vehicles are plug-in hybrids that are powered by electricity. For short commutes, the car can run on energy stored in a battery that has been charged by plugging it in. For longer trips, an on-board gasoline engine generates electricity.

The environmental benefits of the vehicle–at least the luxury sedan–will depend on how the driver chooses to operate it. In sport mode, which produces the best acceleration, the gas engine is used to boost power even during short commutes. The driver will need to select stealth mode to drive gas-free. I wonder what kind of fuel economy ranking this car will get.

Fisker is predicting annual sales of 100,000 for its cheaper family vehicle, numbers that seem optimistic after the reportedly poor showing of the first plug-in hybrid, made by the Chinese automaker BYD.

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Tagged: Energy, energy, electric vehicles, DOE, plug-in hybrid, department of energy, Fisker

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