* Had been targeting China launch by end of this year
* Seeks to tap in to China’s fast-growing luxury car market
* Company on firmer footing after setbacks -Henrik Fisker
By Nichola Groom
LOS ANGELES, Nov 28 (Reuters) - Fisker Automotive will start selling its $100,000-plus Karma plug-in hybrid in China during the first quarter of next year to take advantage of the country’s rapidly growing market for luxury cars, company executives said on Wednesday.
Fisker said earlier it would launch in China by the end of this year. But the company encountered a slight delay in obtaining final certification to sell cars in China and decided to focus on the Middle East first, spokesman Roger Ormisher said.
Tackling growing markets like China and the Middle East, where Fisker launched sales earlier this year, is a big part of the fledgling automaker’s growth strategy after it suffered a series of financial setbacks and quality problems with the Karma launch.
“We still aren’t in all the markets where we want to be,” Henrik Fisker, the company’s founder and executive chairman, said in an interview during the Los Angeles Auto Show. “Part of our adjustment is also to keep on entering new markets.”
Luxury car sales in China, the world’s largest auto market, are forecast to grow to 2.7 million vehicles by 2020, overtaking the United States as the world’s leading luxury car market. Fisker’s distributor in China is China Grand Automotive Services Co Ltd.
“We have just launched in the Middle East, which we see a lot of interest and potential sales there, and then we are going to go into China next year,” Henrik Fisker said.
Anaheim, California-based Fisker began selling the Karma in December 2011.
Currently about two-thirds of Karma sales are in the United States, with the rest in Europe, said Chief Executive Tony Posawatz, who joined Fisker this year after working on General Motors Co’s Chevrolet Volt plug-in hybrid for six years.
‘OVER THE CLIFF’
Posawatz is one of several new executives responsible for leading Fisker’s turnaround after a series of quality problems with the Karma, including a recall of batteries made by A123 Systems Inc, which filed for bankruptcy protection in October.
Earlier this year, the U.S. Department of Energy froze a $529 million credit line to Fisker that was the cornerstone of the automaker’s business plan.
When asked what would happen if the United States failed to reach a deal to avoid the so-called fiscal cliff, Henrik Fisker quipped, “we’ve been over the cliff already.”
The automaker is now laying the groundwork to go public and is looking to form partnerships with larger automakers to fund expansion. Production of its second model, the Atlantic, is expected to start in late 2014 or 2015, Fisker said in an investor presentation in October.
The executives would not comment on a timeline on Wednesday.
“I don’t think for us it’s anymore about how are we going to be around next year,” Henrik Fisker said. “It’s more about how can we find the fastest possible way to get our products into the market and how can we find the most efficient way to expand.”