Can Bob Lutz and the Chinese Save Fisker?


If Bob Lutz is winding down, you wouldn't know it. The cigar-chomping former GM product chief is responsible, at least in part, for a host of cars you see on the road today — among them the Chevrolet Camaro, the Chevrolet Volt and the outgoing Cadillac CTS. Lutz turned 81 last February, but he's still a contributing writer at Forbes magazine, and that's just the tip of the iceberg. He's a board member at Utah-based Via Motors, which retrofits a few GM models with plug-in gas/electric drivetrains. And together with Michigan entrepreneur Gilbert Villarreal, he launched VL Automotive, a company that plans to retrofit gas-electric Fisker Karma sedans with GM-supplied, supercharged 6.2-liter V-8s.

Problem is, Fisker is sinking faster than "American Idol" ratings. Lutz said earlier this month that a Fisker bankruptcy wouldn't affect VL's immediate plans, but now it appears he's taking action. Reuters reports VL Automotive has teamed with Chinese parts supplier Wanxiang Group, which bought Fisker's bankrupt battery supplier earlier this year, to offer $20 million for Fisker as part of a packaged bankruptcy deal.

By Kelsey Mays | May 28, 2013 | Comments (1)

Plug-in Cars: Where Can You Buy Them?


Thursday’s pricing announcement for the Chevrolet Spark EV likely piqued some interest on the West Coast, but chances are few others gave it much attention. GM will sell the all-electric hatchback only in California and Oregon; the automaker has announced no plans to sell it elsewhere, spokesman Kevin Kelly told us.

Where can EV fans find their cars? We tallied up the states.

No surprise: Californians get the biggest slice of the EV pie. Thank the state's zero-emissions vehicle mandate, which requires automakers to sell a certain percentage of zero-emissions vehicles, explained Ed Kim, AutoPacific's vice president of industry analysis. Nearby Washington state has adopted California's emissions requirements but not the ZEV quota, and states such as Oregon and a number along the East Coast have adopted both.

The emissions requirement should eventually align with the federal government's 2025 corporate average fuel economy requirements. But it still means "a plug-in car sold in Oregon counts towards California’s required ZEV volume for the automaker that makes that vehicle," Kim wrote in an email. "It’s not a natural consumer market for such vehicles, but rather a market legislated into existence."

By Kelsey Mays | May 24, 2013 | Comments (1)

Fisker Edges Closer to Bankruptcy as New Details Emerge


The travails continue for Anaheim, Calif.-based Fisker. Executives at the struggling plug-in-vehicle maker met with Congress Wednesday, and new details emerged on Fisker's government dealings.

It goes like this. The U.S. Department of Energy approved $529 million in low-interest loans to Fisker in 2010 as part of its $25 billion Advanced Technology Vehicles Manufacturing program, which met political fire and ceased loans to any companies in 2011. But now the Detroit News reports Fisker received $32 million in program loans in February 2011 under the notion — as required by the DOE — that it had begun to build the Karma plug-in sedan. Karma production did not, in fact, begin until months later. The federal government found out, and in June 2011, after receiving $192 million of the $529 million awarded, Fisker lost its D.C. sugar daddy.

By Kelsey Mays | April 26, 2013 | Comments (6)

Fisker Lays Off 75% of Workforce as Bankruptcy Looms


Leonardo DiCaprio may love his Fisker Karma, but the California automaker is listing like the Titanic. Less than a month after founder Henrik Fisker quit, the boutique car company laid off some 160 employees, the Detroit News reports, as it struggles to secure funding. That's about 75% of its workforce. Automotive News reports the automaker is now facing a federal lawsuit for failing to give those employees adequate notice.

Fisker set sail in 2007, but the voyage has seen icebergs galore. We reviewed the $103,000 (including destination charge) Karma plug-in hybrid in March 2012, and we found it, well, quirky. That same month, Consumer Reports bought a Karma that promptly broke down. Fisker recalled the car twice during the next five months, the second time for possible electrical problems that could lead to a fire.

Now the Detroit News estimates Fisker has just $30 million left. Just how little is that? Consider this: Bloomberg News reports the automaker had raised more than $1 billion from private sources plus $529 million in low-interest Department of Energy loans — part of the agency's controversial $25 billion Advanced Technology Vehicles Manufacturing program, whose recipients range from Tesla to Ford. The DOE stopped payments in 2011 after Fisker failed to meet conditions for the loan. Having already spent $193 million of the funding, Fisker suspended plans to build a more affordable car called the Atlantic at a shuttered GM plant in Delaware.

By Kelsey Mays | April 8, 2013 | Comments (5)

Fisker's Savior Could Come From China

Start-up plug-in car company Fisker Automotive may have started in Anaheim, Calif., but the troubled automaker's operations could be moving to China. According to USA Today, Fisker is interested in selling a controlling stake of the company, and an interested party is Dongfeng Motor Corp., one of China's largest automakers.

USA Today reports that the Wuhan, China-based company has made a $350 million offer that would give it a majority stake of the company. Fisker is seeking investors to keep it afloat after a year full of production delays, recalls and financial setbacks, including the loss of Department of Energy loans, a CEO shakeup and employee layoffs.

The company's only vehicle, the Karma sedan, retails for $103,000, including a $1,000 destination charge, and is no longer in production since battery supplier A123 Systems Inc. filed for bankruptcy last year. In light of its troubles, Fisker has also shelved plans to produce the smaller and more affordable Atlantic extended-range electric sedan.

Report: Fisker weighing bids, including Dongfeng (USA Today)
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By Jennifer Geiger | February 18, 2013 | Comments (0)

Recall Alert: 2012 Fisker Karma

Boutique hybrid-car maker Fisker is recalling 1,377 model-year 2012 versions of the Karma four-seat plug-in hybrid due to problems with the engine cooling fan, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

In the affected vehicles, which were built from June 15 through July 9, 2012 (check your vehicle's build date on a sticker on the driver-side doorjamb), the low-temperature cooling fan that could short out. This could lead to a fire.

Fisker will notify owners starting today, and dealers will replace the affected parts free of charge. Owners can call Fisker at 855-575-7577 (select option 2) or NHTSA's vehicle safety hotline at 888-327-4236 for more info.

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By Jennifer Geiger | August 27, 2012 | Comments (2)

Daily News Briefs: June 14, 2012


More details have emerged on the potential Saab asset sell, according to Automotive News. The deal, devised by a Japan-Hong Kong partnership, so far only includes the purchasing rights to the current Saab 9-3 vehicle and a platform Saab was developing called "Phoenix," which was supposed to be the next-generation 9-3. The firm also wants to buy the old Saab factory, but it plans to hire only 200 employees instead of the 3,500 that used to work there. The new Saab company, called National Electric Vehicle Sweden AB, aims to become the world’s largest purveyor of electric vehicles, turning Saab exclusively into an EV maker. The new company won’t have the rights to build the Saab 9-5 or the Saab 9-4x, according to GM, which owns the technology rights to those vehicles. The company won’t own Saab’s spare parts company, either. The biggest omission to the deal is the rights to the Saab brand name; those discussions are still ongoing, according to the company. If the deal goes through, the new company aims to build EVs using Japanese technology on the Saab platform by 2013 or 2014.

In other news:

By Colin Bird | June 14, 2012 | Comments (0)

Recall Alert: 2012 Fisker Karma

Fisker is recalling 19 model-year 2012 versions of its Karma plug-in hybrid/electric sedan due to a coolant leak, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. This is an expansion of a December 2011 recall that involved 239 Fisker Karmas.

The affected vehicles were manufactured from Sept. 22, 2011, to Jan. 20, 2012, and have incorrectly positioned hose clamps in the battery. This could lead to a coolant leak from the hoses, causing a possible electrical short and fire. You can check your vehicle's build date on a sticker on the driver-side doorjamb.

Fisker has already started notifying the additional 19 owners about the recall and is warning them not to charge or drive the vehicle. Fisker will arrange to have the vehicle transported to a repair facility and will replace the affected parts free of charge. Owners can call Fisker at 855-575-7577 or NHTSA's vehicle safety hotline at 888-327-4236 for more info.

2012 Fisker Karma Review
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By Jennifer Geiger | June 4, 2012 | Comments (0)

Daily News Briefs: May 21, 2012

Joel Ewanick

After saying it would cease buying ads on Facebook, GM dropped a bigger advertising bombshell Friday when it announced it will not participate in next year's Super Bowl advertising, according to Bloomberg. Joel Ewanick (pictured), GM's chief marketing officer, said the company couldn't justify the expense despite the reach that the Super Bowl provides. The move is a part of a marketing reorganization led by Ewanick to save the carmaker $2 billion over the next five years, Bloomberg said. GM spent about $1.8 billion on advertising in the U.S. last year, making it the third-largest advertiser behind AT&T and Procter & Gamble. The carmaker still plans to advertise in the London 2012 Summer Olympics, GM told Bloomberg.

In other news:

By Colin Bird | May 21, 2012 | Comments (2)

Fisker Defends Karma in Garage Fire

Investigators believe a garage fire in Sugar Land, Texas, was caused by a Fisker Karma, but they are unable to pinpoint the exact source. Last week, an ex-GM engineer agreed; Jon Bereisa told Automotive News that a design flaw with the car's tight engine and exhaust packaging could be to blame. Fisker, however, is standing by its plug-in hybrid car and released a statement saying the Karma's battery, engine and exhaust system passed rigorous tests and received the necessary certification before the car went on sale.

Fisker states that engine and exhaust packaging was done according to the appropriate standards, and heat protection sleeves were used in all high-heat zones. "Our technologies and engine design have been fully tested and certified at the highest level. It is irresponsible and ill-informed for technology pundits to suggest otherwise in order to secure media attention for unfounded claims," Paul Boskovitch, Fisker Automotive’s director of powertrain and engineering, said in a statement.

By Jennifer Geiger | May 16, 2012 | Comments (4)

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