Former Chrysler CEO Tom LaSorda is back in the saddle, albeit one with a relatively silent source of power, as the new chief executive of battery-car start-up Fisker Automotive.
LaSorda, who had been serving as advisor and vice chairman of the California-based company will step into day-to-day management replacing founder Henrik Fisker as CEO. The Danish-born Fisker will continue to serve as executive chairman and as the company’s design chief.
The 57-year-old LaSorda will have plenty of challenges ahead of him. Fisker Automotive is months behind with the launch of its first product, the plug-in Karma sports car, and it is struggling to renegotiate $528 million in federal loans needed to complete the development and production launch of the maker’s next product, a more mainstream plug-in model codenamed Project Nina.
Referring to his decision to switch from an advisory to a management role, Canadian-born LaSorda said founder Henrik Fisker “didn’t have to twist my arm,” adding that he is “impressed with the passion that’s here…and the company itself. But I am more impressed with the product,” both the Karma and the still-secret Project Nina.
Fisker is clearly counting on LaSorda, both by tapping into his long knowledge of how the automotive industry works and the credibility he can lend to a struggling start-up. Fisker’s board and upper management ranks are filled with industry veterans, in fact, from long-time BMW exec Vic Doolan to Richard Beatty, a veteran at Ford who recently came aboard as Fisker’s marketing chief.
LaSorda was the son of a Canadian automotive labor veteran but chose to cross the lines and go into management, initially with General Motors and then with Chrysler. He served as the CEO of the smallest domestic maker during its final years as partner with what was then known as DaimlerChrysler AG.
When the troubled Detroit maker was sold off to private equity giant Cerberus Capital, LaSorda agreed to a demotion, serving as co-president. He left in 2009, following the Chrysler bankruptcy and restructuring, as the carmaker was effectively taken over by Italy’s Fiat SpA.
LaSorda hadn’t completely hung up his spurs. Along with his work on the Fisker board he had founded a venture capital firm based in Michigan.
Why jump back into the business full-time after going into a well-funded retirement? “I would never have taken the job if I didn’t think the future of (Fisker Automotive) was bright and that it has a great future,” LaSorda said during a media presentation today.
Not everyone would agree. As TheDetroitBureau.com recently reported, Fisker has not drawn any money from its Department of Energy loan since last May due to a disagreement with the DoE over terms of the deal. Executive Chairman Fisker conceded that his company had been “too aggressive” in setting the benchmarks used to win the loan but had not been able to come to terms with the Energy Department over modifying the agreement.
Fisker said he still hopes that this can be accomplished but has, in the meantime, set out to line up alternative private equity to keep the company going if the DoE deal falls through.
The 4-door Karma, technically known as an extended-range electric vehicle, is slowly ramping up production, months beyond its original schedule – and, at $102,000, about 20% above its originally projected cost.
(For a review of the Fisker Karma, Click Here.)
The Nina vehicles – as there are expected to be several variants – are about a year behind schedule and likely won’t reach market until 2013.
The maker insists that even without its DoE loan it should be able to bring Project Nina into fruition, the vehicles expected to be produced at an old General Motors plant in Delaware.
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