Fisker and new Chinese owner to restart Karma production this year

BEIJING (Reuters) - U.S.-based Fisker Automotive, which has been acquired by China’s largest auto parts company, plans to restart production of its Karma plug-in hybrid luxury car “within a year” and will also complete the half-finished development of a second model, according to a senior executive.

The Fisker automotive electric Atlantic sedan logo is seen during its unveiling ahead of the 2012 International Auto Show in New York April 3, 2012. REUTERS/Allison Joyce

Pin Ni, head of the U.S. unit of the Wanxiang Group, which acquired Fisker’s assets for $149.2 million in a U.S. bankruptcy auction, said Fisker plans to restart production of the Karma as early as this year at its plant in Finland and start selling Karma cars again in the United States and Europe.

The car, a hybrid-electric vehicle equipped with a small gasoline engine that kicks in when its on-board battery is depleted, was previously sold at a starting price of around $100,000 before Fisker ceased production in 2012 after a series of missteps and recalls.

Ni said the Hangzhou-based Wanxiang is finalizing business plans for Fisker and doesn’t have a forecast for how many Karmas it plans to sell.

“Obviously we want to sell more than what Fisker sold before under its previous management,” Ni said. “We would like to restart Karma production within a year.”

Fisker, which began selling the Karma in 2011, sold a total of 1,800 before it suspended production, falling far short of initial projections that it would sell 11,000 sedans by early 2012.

Once sales gain steam, Ni said Fisker could quickly commence production of the Karma in the United States.

There are several options for U.S. production, he said, including cooperating with “a potential partner out of Michigan.”

It could also make use of a former GM plant in Delaware, where Fisker had tried to produce cars using a loan of up to $529 million the U.S. Department of Energy provided to promote clean-energy vehicles. Ni declined to elaborate on the Michigan option.

Ni said producing Fisker cars in China was a possibility in the future because China is promoting the use of all-electric battery cars and other green cars with generous purchase subsidies.

“We don’t know yet. The first step is the United States,” he said. “But China is a huge market we cannot ignore. So, down the road we are going to look into the China market for sure. China is a 22 million unit a year market. All we need is to make just a very very small splash,” he said, referring to sales.

Wanxiang, according to Ni, also wants Fisker to complete the half-finished development of a second model called the Atlantic, a mid-size gasoline-electric hybrid sedan that was to be positioned as a more affordable “volume model” under Fisker’s previous management and was slated to go into production in 2015.

Fisker, founded in 2007, burned through more than $1 billion in private investment in addition to $192 million of the U.S. government loan. It 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 to pay 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 earlier this month.

Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan