MENLO PARK, California Electric carmaker Fisker Automotive will build about 100 Karma plug-in hybrid cars this year through a supplier, with production ramping up next year, a major investor in the firm said on Wednesday.
"These will be tested internally, crash tested and used for other testing purposes," said Ray Lane, managing partner at storied U.S. venture capital fund Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers. "Some of them will be given to customers for testing purposes as well, out in the real road."
Lane, an early stage investor in California-based Fisker, said it planned to build 70-100 vehicles this year though Finland-based contract manufacturer Valmet Automotive.
"They will start testing this year and will go into mass production in February," he said, adding about 15,000 vehicles will be built annually.
The Karma, a rechargeable luxury sports car that will be sold for $87,900, is designed to travel 50 miles on a single charge in electric-only mode. In hybrid-mode, the car has a total range of 300 miles.
Kleiner -- best known for investments in Google, Netscape, and Amazon.com -- has made investments in other start-ups in the automotive sector, including Finland-based Think and V-Vehicle.
U.S. and many global automakers are betting that battery technology will make electric cars the environmentally friendly transportation of the future, and the switch to electric engines has drawn a wave of new companies into the auto industry, including Fisker and another California start-up, Tesla Motors.
Both of the privately held companies have started out with luxury models but are expanding into more affordable models.
Fisker, which has been granted $529 million in U.S. government funding, plans a lower-cost car dubbed Nina in 2012 that will be built in a former General Motors factory in Delaware. Lane said the Nina would be mid-size sedan, similar to BMW's 5-Series car.
Karma and Nina will compete with vehicles from established automakers and rival start-ups, including Nissan's Leaf and Tesla's Roadster and Model S.
Tesla last week got a boost with a $50 million investment and powertrain deal with Japanese automaker Toyota.
A partnership with a major automaker can be advantageous, Lane said. "Given the choice ... I would have Fisker have a partner," Lane said.
Apart from Tesla and Fisker, many other smaller companies like Coda Automotive and Aptera are hoping to break into the sector. Given the capital required in scaling car production and the tough marketplace, Lane see consolidation ahead.
You have a bunch of small companies that are out there selling electric vehicles, and you have the big companies now slowly behind them," Lane said. "I would say 10 years from now you would be lucky to have one of these (small) companies left."
(Editing by Dan Lalor)
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