LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Start-up electric car designer Fisker Automotive is negotiating a deal to sell its luxury, plug-in Karma model in China and remains open to partnerships with larger rivals, Chief Executive Henrik Fisker said on Tuesday.
“We’re going into China in the second half of next year. We’re already finalizing negotiations with a major Chinese distributor,” Fisker told the Reuters Autos Summit in Los Angeles.
Fisker also said that he had some discussions with larger automakers about a “strategic partnership.”
He did not name the other companies involved in those discussions, but said he would be open to considering partners from Europe, Asia or the United States.
“A strategic partnership with somebody, that’s a possibility,” Fisker said. “We have had talks with several car companies about that, but it has to be not only the right timing but the right fit.”
Fisker said the Irvine, California-based auto company he founded three years ago would consider the possibility of an initial public offering of stock after the launch of the Karma in March.
"A lot has to do with the markets," Fisker said, adding that the strong investor response to the General Motors Co GM.UL IPO was a positive sign.
“I think it’s a good sign, the interest in General Motors, because I think it’s a good sign for the car business in the United States,” he said.
The Karma, which is powered in electric mode by a battery built by A123 Systems AONE.O, is expected to be priced close to $100,000 in the United States.
The vehicle is designed to have a battery-powered range of 50 miles on average. After that, a gasoline engine kicks in to generate power for the battery.
Fisker has previously said it plans three models for its Karma line and three models for a second, lower-cost line of vehicles dubbed “Project Nina.”
Production of the first Nina vehicle is scheduled for 2012 at a former GM plant in Delaware that Fisker acquired earlier this year backed by $529 million in U.S. Department of Energy loans.
Fisker said the company was considering raising further capital to move faster with the roll-out of additional models.
“We don’t really like to talk much in detail about our financing, but anything we’re doing is going more toward the Nina. We’re also looking toward the possibility of accelerating other products,” he said.
TAKING ORDERS AT THE TABLE
Fisker said his company had already taken “a few orders” from Chinese buyers for the Karma, a rechargeable hybrid designed to speed to 60 miles per hour in under six seconds.
One of those came from a chef at a restaurant in China who handed Fisker a check for $5,000 as a down payment after seeing a picture of the Karma and hearing a description of its features, he said.
“I think it’s very exciting to see an American car company having aspirations about exporting to China and not the other way around,” Fisker said of the luxury coupe that has been compared to the Aston Martin V8 Vantage and the BMW Z8.
Fisker said the Karma would appeal to wealthy buyers looking for “responsible luxury.”
“The Karma is a big car. It’s the size of a Porsche Panamera or a BMW 7-Series and you are still able to drive this car getting an average fuel economy that is better than a Prius.”
Valmert Automotive, a Finnish contract manufacturer, is assembling the Karma model for Fisker. Part of the interior is being supplied by Magna International MG.TO, Fisker said.
Fisker said he expected to build about 10,000 of the Karma models in 2011, ramping up toward a full production rate of 15,000 vehicles by the middle of the year.
Earlier this month, Fisker dropped Quantum Fuel Systems Technologies QTWW.O as a supplier for power inverters on the Karma, a part priced at $9,300 each.
Fisker said the component, which changes power from a battery to drive large electrical equipment, was available from another supplier and that the change would not risk a delay to the Karma launch in March.
Separately, Fisker said the company would not offer preferential treatment in hiring for the former GM workers that had been employed by GM at its Delaware plant and represented by the United Auto Workers union.
“We will employ anyone who is the best for the job,” he said.
Additional reporting by Kevin Krolicki in Detroit; Editing by Lincoln Feast
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