| BEVERLY HILLS
BEVERLY HILLS Feb 13 Fisker Automotive
Inc showed off its $100,000-plus Karma luxury electric car on
Monday, hoping to create a splash less than a month after the
start-up company ratcheted down sales projections for its maiden
The company, founded by former Aston Martin designer Henrik
Fisker in 2007, needs the car, which has come up against its
share of teething problems from a recall to software glitches,
to sell well.
It hopes to shake off production delays to tap the rest of a
$529 million federal loan from the U.S. Department of Energy to
bankroll its next model, the Nina sedan. CEO Fisker told
reporters -- gathered in Beverly Hills for what's billed as the
first chance for U.S. reviewers to take the car for a spin -- it
was exploring financing alternatives.
"Our survival is not dependent on the DOE," Fisker said. "We
have already looked into alternative financing and we have
really good possibilities," he said without elaborating.
"We don't want to put ourselves into a position where we're
at the mercy of the DOE."
Fisker, which has never made a profit, received $193 million
of the federal loan to support the rollout of the $102,000
plug-in hybrid sportscar. The $336 million balance of the loan
is intended to fund development of a sedan known as the Nina
that will be sold at a lower price.
But last week, Fisker said it had suspended work at its
assembly plant in Delaware -- a former General Motors Co
factory -- and laid off 26 workers while it renegotiates terms
of the federal loan.
Fisker said on Monday the company -- wary of over-aggressive
targets after missing Karma production and sales targets -- was
discussing more realistic milestones.
A DOE spokesman had also cited delays in getting the Karma
to market as a factor. The automaker has missed several launch
dates before handing its first Karma over to actor Leonardo di
Caprio, who is also a Fisker investor, in July.
Fisker continues to crank out something like 25 of its
Karmas a day, with about 1,500 made so far and about 400 to 500
delivered to European and American buyers, its CEO said.
WANTED: STRONG REVIEWS
In addition to the federal loan, Fisker has raised more than
$850 million from investors including Kleiner Perkins Caufield &
Byers, Advanced Equities and Qatar Investment Authority. Hewlett
Packard Chairman Ray Lane is a managing partner at
Kleiner Perkins and a Fisker board member and investor.
But Fisker needs its Karma to go down well with its target
clientele to sustain its cash flow.
On Monday, it let reporters get behind the wheel of about a
half-dozen of its svelte four-door sports sedan and cruise about
70 miles up into the sun-drenched Malibu mountains and back.
Their sweeping curves -- intended to resemble a cheetah in
full flight -- and distinctive high-pitched whines turned heads,
drawing the kind of attention the four-year-old startup craves
as it struggles to put behind it a harsher form of scrutiny.
Fisker has found itself under the microscope as its woes
have mounted. In January, it halted sales for four days to fix a
software malfunction that at times triggered warning lights
while temporarily freezing navigation systems.
In December, it recalled 239 Karmas due to a possible defect
in batteries made by supplier A123 Systems that could
cause a coolant fluid leak and electrical short circuit. The
previous month, A123 reduced its full-year revenue outlook after
Fisker unexpectedly cut orders.
Compunding its woes, energy department loans and loan
guarantees have come under fire from lawmakers since solar panel
company Solyndra filed for bankruptcy in September after
receiving a $535 million government loan in 2009.
In an opinion piece for the Orange County Register last
fall, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney said
President Barack Obama "shoveled $1 billion out the door" to
Fisker and Tesla Motors, another electric car company.
He called on Congress to investigate how taxpayer money was
spent so poorly.
"You think there'd be a few bumps in the road. And then you
get entangled in a political campaign in America," Fisker said.
Electric cars comprised a fraction of 12.8 million light
vehicles sold in the United States last year, led by Nissan's
all-electric Leaf and GM's hybrid Chevrolet Volt.
Fisker had aimed to begin production of the Nina in 2013,
though the company plans to divulge a more exact timeline only
once it restarts work at the Delaware plant.
For now, it's counting on its Karma -- a full-bodied luxury
car with 22-inch wheel and a wide but low-slung profile with a
Fisker hopes to draw the well-heeled yet environmentally
conscious buyer with details like what it calls a no-animal
interior -- no leather anywhere -- and wood salvaged from
California forest fires and from the bottom of Lake Michigan.
"It makes a big difference to have a car on the road," the
CEO said, suggesting the DOE's investment has borne fruit.
"It's about creating something that no other brand will do.
We did all that to make a statement that we're different,"
Henrik Fisker told reporters. "And we're going to be radical
from now on."