* Li beat at least two other groups in Friday auction
* DOE owed $168 mln, minimum bid at auction was $30 mln
* Company co-founder no longer formally working with Li
By Deepa Seetharaman
DETROIT, Oct 17 An investor group led by Hong
Kong tycoon Richard Li is the likely winner of a government loan
owed by Fisker Automotive, the now-dormant maker of plug-in
hybrid sports cars, people familiar with the matter said on
The U.S. Department of Energy picked Li's group after an
auction held Friday to sell the green-energy loan. The DOE and
Li are now nailing down the final details of the sale, which has
not yet closed, the people said.
Buying the loan would allow Li, the youngest son of Asia's
richest man and an early Fisker investor, to restructure Fisker
unencumbered by the obligations of the DOE funds and potentially
avoid a bankruptcy filing that would wipe out equity investors.
Sources familiar with the company have said however that
reviving Fisker outside of a bankruptcy would be an expensive
and difficult process.
The people declined to be named because the details were
private. The DOE said Thursday that the winner would be publicly
announced once final negotiations were completed and the sale
was closed. Fisker owes the DOE $168 million.
Li beat out at least two other groups vying to buy the loan
in Friday's auction. They were German investment group Fritz
Nols AG as well as a team that included Chinese auto parts
supplier Wanxiang and former General Motors Co executive
Fisker does not have enough money to pay its outstanding
bills and has not built a car in about 15 months. Fisker laid
off most of its employees in April to save cash.
The DOE said last month that it planned the auction after
"exhausting any realistic possibility" that it could recoup the
entire amount still owed by Fisker.
The exact value of Li's bid was not immediately clear, but
bidders had to offer at least $30 million to participate in the
Fisker loan auction, sources have said.
The DOE also required that all bids include a plan to
promote U.S. manufacturing and engineering of "green" cars.
In 2009, Fisker won a $529 million DOE loan under a U.S.
program to promote green vehicles. Fisker also got the backing
of prominent investors like venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins
Caufield & Byers and later won rave reviews for the design of
its flagship car, the $100,000-plus Karma plug-in hybrid.
But in mid-2011, the DOE halted payments after Fisker drew
down $192 million, citing delays in launching the Karma. The
Karma's shaky launch and the disclosure in early 2012 that DOE
had frozen access to funding hurt the Fisker's value.
Many Fisker executives left the company this year, including
co-founder and well-regarded car designer Henrik Fisker, who
resigned in March.
Henrik Fisker had been working with Li's group this spring,
although the two sides parted ways this summer, sources said
Thursday. They remain on good terms.
Henrik Fisker declined to comment and Pacific Century Group,
the private investment group chaired by Richard Li, could not be
immediately reached for comment by e-mail.