Two US senators have asked the new Obama administration energy secretary to set out a timeline for distributing up to US$25bn in loans to help US auto companies produce more fuel efficient vehicles.

California Democrat Dianne Feinstein [she was MC of the new president’s inauguration ceremony on 20 January – ed] and Maine Republican Olympia Snowe wrote to Steven Chu this week requesting an aggressive time line for revising regulations and issuing the financing, Reuters reported.

“Many of the applicants for the first tranche of loans plan to make significant capital investments that they would otherwise be unable to afford,” the lawmakers wrote.

“Providing these firms with a precise time line would allow them to plan their business operations during a time of extraordinary financial challenge.”

Snowe and Feinstein were instrumental in driving Congress to boost average light vehicle fuel efficiency by 40% to 35 miles per [3.8-litre US] gallon between 2011 and 2020, Reuters noted.

The advanced technology loan programme was created in the 2007 energy law mainly to help General Motors, Ford and Chrysler retool factories and make other changes necessary to produce more fuel efficient vehicles, the report added.

The Detroit Three have all submitted applications for financing to help develop better hybrids as well as accelerate work on electric vehicles and cars that run on alternative fuels. Smaller companies have also submitted applications for loans which would be separate from the $17 bn bailout approved by The White House and Treasury for GM and Chrysler in December, the news agency noted.