Fisker puts U.S. workforce on furlough this week

DETROIT, March 27 Wed Mar 27, 2013 7:52pm EDT

DETROIT, March 27 (Reuters) - Fisker Automotive, which has not made a vehicle since July, placed its U.S. workforce on furlough this week as part of its effort to keep costs low while it continues to search for a strategic partner, the U.S. automaker said on Wednesday.

"This is a common practice, particularly in the automotive industry, to manage costs and operations based on current activity levels and commercial requirements," Fisker, which has just over 200 U.S. employees, said in a statement.

The move comes about a month before the cash-strapped company, which launched the Karma plug-in hybrid in late 2011, faces a loan payment to the U.S. Department of Energy.

Fisker spokesman Roger Ormisher declined to reveal the amount of the loan payment due in late April. The DOE could not be immediately reached for comment.

The automaker said it continues to seek an investor to help build its second model, the Atlantic plug-in hybrid. But the company has faced many challenges this month, including the abrupt resignation of its founder, Henrik Fisker, over "several major disagreements" with top management.

Fisker's efforts to find a strategic partner in China have also stalled in recent weeks. Fisker had held talks with two Chinese automakers, Zhejiang Geely Holding Group, the owner of Sweden's Volvo, and Dongfeng Motor Group Co.

The company was founded in 2007 and drummed up about $1.2 billion in private financing. In 2009, Fisker also won a $529 million federal loan as part of an Obama administration program to spur advanced vehicle development.

But Fisker's delay in bringing the Karma to market prompted the DOE to freeze the loan, which Fisker was relying on to pay for Atlantic. The resulting cash crunch was exacerbated by the bankruptcy of its chief battery supplier, A123 Systems, now owned by Wanxiang Group, China's largest auto parts maker.

Fisker's obligations to the U.S. government as part of its federal loan presented a roadblock in its discussions with Geely, people familiar with the matter have said.

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