| WILMINGTON, Del
WILMINGTON, Del Feb 18 Fisker Automotive's
Karma sports car, whose gorgeous design and hybrid plug-in
engine once made it a status symbol for A-list
environmentalists, will come roaring back powered by a
supercharged V8, according to plans revealed by its new owner.
The U.S. unit of Wanxiang Group of China received approval
on Tuesday to acquire Fisker's assets for $149.2 million. Plans
to revive the Karma as a traditional gas-guzzling sports car
were revealed in U.S. Bankruptcy Court documents and by a person
briefed on them.
Fisker, founded in 2007, sought to plant its flag as the
first manufacturer to put a hybrid engine in a sports car with
an eye-catching design. Celebrity backers included movie star
Leonardo DiCaprio, who was drawn to the project by his concern
about climate change.
But after technological glitches and management missteps,
Fisker ceased production in 2012.
Former General Motors executive Bob Lutz, a
high-profile critic of Fisker's environmental approach, will get
a chance to prove his contention that luxury car owners want
firepower under the hood more than a reduced carbon footprint.
Wanxiang plans to team up with Lutz and his partner Gilbert
Villarreal, who have established VL Automotive.
In a presentation to creditors, Wanxiang called VL the "soul
of Fisker" and praised the company for building the "first true
American luxury grand touring sedan in decades, the VL Destino."
The Destino takes a Karma body and combines its external
beauty with the internal brawn of a Corvette ZR-1 drive train,
to produce an car that can hit 200 miles per hour.
Lutz did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Last year, he conceded in a blog post for Forbes.com that a
thundering Destino was not going to appeal to everyone.
"Some 'greenies' are already hyperventilating on blogs over
the obscenity of converting an 'earth-friendly' electric car to
gas. What they don't realize is that their fanatical
all-organic-tofu enthusiasm isn't shared by the bulk of the
luxury-car buying public," Lutz wrote in the January 2013 post.
At the time, Lutz said he might price the Destino at
$180,000, compared to the $100,000 tag for a Karma.
The plan is a far cry from the initial vision for a Fisker
as a luxury "green" car company. The U.S. Department of Energy
threw its support behind the original plan by providing Fisker
with a clean-energy loan of up to $529 million to jump-start
production at a former GM plant in Delaware.
Wanxiang insisted it will not totally abandon Fisker's green
car roots. In its presentation to creditors, Wanxiang said it
plans to build hybrid Karmas along with Destinos, and will
continue to develop next-generation cars combining battery power
with a gasoline engine to extend the vehicle's range.
Wanxiang bought Fisker's battery supplier, A123 Systems, in
2013 through a similar bankruptcy auction process. In court
documents, it called A123 the "heart of Fisker."
Wanxiang plans to restart auto production in the coming
months, first at Fisker's plant in Finland. After working
through the inventory in northern Europe, it will begin to
produce cars at VL's facility in Auburn Hills, Michigan. The
company has also mentioned making use of the Delaware plant.
Wanxiang emphasized a slow-growth approach to skirt some of
the problems that dogged Fisker. The company anticipates selling
1,000 combined Karma and Destino cars in the United States in
first 18 months, and another 500 Karmas in Europe.
Fisker sold 1,800 Karmas before it suspended production in
2012, falling far short of initial projections that it would
sell 11,000 sedans by early 2012.
The company burned through more than $1 billion in private
investment, in addition to the U.S. government loan, which had
$168 million outstanding when Fisker filed for bankruptcy.
A U.S. Bankruptcy judge ordered Fisker's assets be put up
for sale to raise money for its creditors.
Despite the troubled history, there was intense bidding for
Fisker's assets, a collection of patents and designs, a dealer
and customer network and production facilities.
Wanxiang and its founder Lu Guanqiu outbid a company
controlled by Richard Li of Hong Kong in a battle of Chinese
billionaires. Bidding started at $55 million and went through 18
rounds before Wanxiang emerged victorious on Friday.