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After months of limping along on media hype and limited funds, Ford, Nissan and Tesla Motors have finally had their big electric vehicle pay day — receiving $5.9 billion, $1.6 billion and $465 million in low-interest loans respectively from the U.S. Department of Energy to revamp their factories and push forward ambitious production schedules.

The loans are part of the DOE’s $25 billion Advanced Technology Vehicles Manufacturing Loan program, which drew more than 100 applications. In order to qualify, a company needs to manufacture the vehicles or components in the U.S. and work toward improving the fuel economy by at least 25 percent since 2005 measurements. The three companies announced yesterday were simply the first round to benefit. Most notably, perhaps, those eligible for loans need to be deemed financially viable — a term that knocked GM and Chrysler out of the running.

Even though Nissan and Ford have been making headway on electric cars appropriate for the mass market, Tesla still seems to be the company to watch, with much of the news on the loans focusing on what this will mean for the startup. Pairing the $465 million with the $50 million investment it just received from Daimler, it should have enough to accelerate development of its Model S sedan, a model that will supposedly be more affordable for middle class consumers at $49,900 (after federal tax credits).

Based in San Carlos, Calif., Tesla plans to use $365 million of the sum to equip its manufacturing facility in California. The rest is earmarked for a separate plant to produce electric drive trains and lithium-ion battery packs (one of the company’s more lucrative operations) for other automotive companies. It hasn’t chosen locations for these facilities yet, but has narrowed them down to several finalists. The battery factory is expected to employ 650 people. The Model S assembly plant is expected to employ 1,000 and begin production in late 2011 — still a ways away.

In the short-term, the DOE’s announcement takes attention away from the bickering lawsuit between Tesla CEO Elon Musk and founder Martin Eberhard.

Nissan says the funds it received will help lower costs of its technology — though no price point for its electric vehicle has been released. The company says its goal is to create a zero-emission car that consumers can drive off of regular car lots — an experience that will help electric vehicles catch on in the mainstream.

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