tesla model s logo

A recent report indicates that there's a dark and shadowy secret just waiting to wreck havoc on Tesla Motors: a federal probe into whether, as the conservative Washington Times puts it, "the automaker was using foreign instead of American parts in manufacturing their electric vehicles." Tesla has openly said it uses Panasonic battery cells, for example, so the need for a probe is not quite clear.

According to a PDF that the Times says comes from an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) investigation, ICE asked the Department of Energy for documents about the Advanced Technology Vehicles Manufacturing (ATVM) loan program on December 5, 2011. There are lots of "may" and "possibly" phrasings in the memo, and it reads like someone saw a mention on the DOE website about a "buy American" requirement and went fishing for information. The DOE responded on December 22 that "the $465m Tesla loan was not appropriated through the Recovery Act of 2009. The $465m Tesla loan was actually appropriated through Public Law 110-329 and does not have the buy American requirement," adding that "The DOE [Office of Inspector General] would not be investigating this matter any further." For some reason the Times concludes that the memo, "provides no information on how, or whether, the customs probe concluded."

A Seeking Alpha contributor notes that the ICE:

is still proactively investigating whether Tesla is using its foreign trade zone status to bypass the so-called "loan requirements." A foreign trade zone facilitates the creation of certain areas at or near customs port of entry where products can be imported without standard import duties and customs entry procedures. Tesla's application for a "subzone" within San Jose's foreign trade zone was approved in September. ICE is neither affirming nor denying an investigation. Also, Tesla has made no mention of this investigation in its SEC disclosures.

He add that he's not worried about a negative impact on TSLA stock or the company based on the investigation. For the record, Tesla's official statement is as follows:

We have not at any time been made aware of an investigation regarding this issue by ICE or any other governmental agency. It is customary for car manufacturers in the United States to use imported parts and we have openly indicated throughout the development of Model S that we purchase certain parts, like the cells used in our battery pack, from foreign suppliers.