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: Fisker Automotive Turning the Corner?

Fisker Automotive Turning the Corner?

23 Aug

During August 2012, Fisker Automotive made another management change to bring in an experienced leader to help with production problems that have slowed the ramp up of the plug-in Fisker Karma model.   The company has also been in the midst of  plans to introduce next-generation models like the mid-price Atlantic sedan, the crossover Surf, and a convertible Sunset sports car.  The company must bring these vehicles online while also starting up production within a new factory in Delaware to replace its current production line overseas in Finland.

“New isn’t easy”, said co-founder and original CEO Henrik Fisker during a recent video at a TEDx Conference, staged at Chapman University:  http://www.tedxchapmanu.com/talks/

The Karma has initially sold well by generating $100 million in revenues during the first four months of 2012 at a price tag of $103,000 to $120,000 each.   The Karma includes powerful performance from two rear-wheel drive electric motors that provide a whopping 981 lb.-ft of combined torque that can accelerate this sleek and heavier vehicle from 0 to 60 mph in just 7.9 seconds. The plug-in electric car can travel 40 miles in electric-only mode before a backup gasoline generator turns on automatically to continue generating electricity for the battery pack and electric motor.  Total range is 300 miles before one or both of the fuel sources need to be replenished.  A paddle shifter on the steering wheel allows the driver to toggle between “Sport” and “Eco” modes to choose between performance or optimum range.  The ride is low to the ground but with lots of viewing area and a nice long profile.  Extra large wheels give the Karma a powerful look as well as adding speed.

However, the Karma’s rollout had been hampered by problems with the lithium-ion battery pack from A123Systems, as well as a coolant hose clamp problem.  These issues required two recalls for modifications.  Ongoing software glitches with the car’s operating system have also required several new versions and upgrades to customer cars by local dealerships.   A recent fire involving a customer’s Fisker Karma also is undergoing investigation.  To top it off, the slow progress and failure to ramp up the follow-up Fisker Atlantic model, along with its proposed Delaware production facility, have frozen U.S. government loan money that was conditional upon meeting production and performance objectives.

To resolve these issues, Fisker’s financial backers have stepped up to fill the money gap and make personnel changes.  Ray Lane, managing partner at Kleiner, Perkins, Caufield and Byers has been the primary financier for early rounds of funding towards this “green” automotive venture.  He is continuing to raise $300 million from investors to finance another round that would continue the growth of Fisker Automotive and its Delaware facility.

Lane also hired Tony Posawatz, the former executive line manager for the GM Chevrolet Volt, to join the company in August as CEO, replacing Tom Lasorda.  Posawatz has first-hand experience with similar issues involving the Fisker Karma electric vehicle extended range (EVer) technology.  Posawatz enjoyed a thirty-year career at GM, working as a lead engineer on the early EV1 electric car.  He then shepherded the plug-in Chevy Volt from concept car through all stages of manufacturing, marketing and distribution while being promoted to product line executive manager for the Volt at GM.  The Chevy Volt also uses a gasoline generator to provide backup range to its electric motor propulsion range.  The extended range electric vehicle technology of the GM Chevy Volt has been named Voltec, instead of EVer.

The Volt also went through its share of glitches and bad publicity related to the macro-economic need for government intervention to save the company, earlier mismanagement of the GM EV1 electric car during the 1990s, and its status as a “political football” during the GOP presidential primary season, blamed in part on a fire at the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) warehouse two weeks after crash testing.  After an early recall to reinforce the vehicle’s battery pack compartment, GM and the Chevrolet Volt have since put up respectable sales numbers during 2012.  The plug-in Chevy Volt still has a five-star safety rating from the NHTSA after the recall modification was completed.

Silicon Valley startup Tesla Motors has also struggled with similar problems while rolling out its two-seat electric Roadster and next generation all-electric Model S.  Co-founder and CEO Elon Musk used much of his own money along with the funds of fellow investors while painfully battling supply and design problems that occurred with the early Roadster.  Like the Fisker Karma, much of the vehicle was originally built on a Lotus factory production line in Europe and then shipped to a U.S. service facility in California for final integration of the electric drive train.  The rollout of the next-generation Model S along with its  factory in Fremont, California have also been met with delays and financial setbacks in meeting the deadlines and requirements for a U.S. government loan.  Reminders of one previous government loan failure is just down the road on Highway 880 where an empty Solyndra factory building is still awaiting a new occupant.

However, the recent release of the Model S in June 2012 has been met with good performance reviews from automotive writers, as did the Chevy Volt when it was first released and voted Motor Trend Car of the Year during 2010.

Ray Lane and Tony Posawatz are determined to see that the sexy designs of the Fisker Karma, the mid-price Atlantic with its second generation drive train, the crossover Surf and a convertible Sunset sports car all continue to achieve good performance and glowing reviews while Fisker Automotive strives to compete in the worldwide auto industry.

The design of the Karma and its follow-up models are stunning.  Co-founder Henrik Fisker is a wonderful artist,  dedicated to bringing back style and “Eco-chic” to the automotive industry.

Let’s hope that Tony Posawatz’s hands-on experience, combined with Ray Lane’s financial wizardry, and the rest of the Fisker team can shake off the company’s recent glitches while continuing to meet new challenges and turn this difficult corner.

For more information about Fisker Automotive, the Karma and its new upcoming models, visit the company’s website at:  www.fiskerautomotive.com

To test drive a Fisker Karma in southern Nevada, contact Paul Jarrett at the Gaudin Fisker dealership:

7200 W. Sahara Avenue, Las Vegas, NV 89117   Tel:  (702) 284-7000    Email:: pjarrett@jplv.net

Posted by Stan Hanel, Outreach Coordinator, Nevada Electric Vehicle Accelerator


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