The U.S. Senate has voted to reauthorize a $1.6 billion federal program supporting development of hybrid and electric vehicles over objections stemming from past loans to auto companies such as Fisker Automotive.

The reauthorization of the Department of Energy’s Vehicle Technologies program was included in a broad energy bill that was approved on an 85-12 vote in the Senate. The Vehicle Technologies program was last funded by Congress in 2007.

Conservative groups had complained about past government loans to auto companies. The Fisker Automotive bankruptcy was cited once again as a failed attempt to successfully develop the new technology as a viable business model.

The Senate energy bill would authorize the spending of about $339 million per year “to support domestic research, development, engineering, demonstration and commercial application and manufacturing of advanced vehicles, engines and components.” The new funding would be set to expire in 2020 under the proposed legislation.

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The Senate bill will have to be merged now with a House energy bill that was approved last December. That bill’s vehicle technology provisions have been introduced in the House by Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-Dearborn, Mich.), but the House has not yet moved to include the program in its broad energy bill.

Backers are hoping the Senate’s large majority favoring the vehicle technologies program will nudge the House to include the funding in its energy bill. They say that this funding is needed for automakers to meet the 54.5 mpg corporate average fuel economy rating.

The Detroit News