Hoping to overcome a string of setbacks and get its product program back on track, battery-car start-up Fisker Automotive is quietly looking to line up a better financed partner.
There are no plans to sell the company, stressed founder and Chairman Henrik Fisker, but it appears the firm has recognized it will be difficult to go it completely alone, especially after having the Department of Energy freeze a low-interest loan that was supposed to help bring the maker’s second product, the Fisker Atlantic plug-in hybrid to market.
Fisker has run into a series of setbacks this year, there were two recalls — including one involving a fire caused by a battery cooling fan — product delays, management shake-ups and the loss of its DoE loan. While its first product, the Fisker Karma, has won kudos from some reviewers, it has been harshly criticized by others, notably including the influential Consumer Reports magazine.
Acknowledging it’s been a tough year, Henrik Fisker told TheDetroitBureau.com in an exclusive interview that, “We’re actively engaged in conversations with potential strategic partners.”
He declined to say which manufacturers might be taking Fisker’s calls, but the Danish-born executive added that, “We’d like to see if we can get something done next year.”
Fisker already has modest ties to both General Motors and BMW. The former provides the range-extending gas engine used in the current Fisker Karma model, which is sold for about $103,000. The Bavarian automaker will supply the gas engine for the next plug-in model, the Fisker Atlantic.
But those alliances are modest, at best, said Fisker, explaining that his firm wants to establish a much more expansive relationship with a bigger partner.
“We’re looking for a close partnership where we could develop new platforms together and share purchasing,” said Fisker, who started out as an automotive designer.
Industry analysts have been suggesting that Fisker might need to consider finding a partner to help right its financial problems. The freezing of the company’s DoE loans has forced Fisker to all but halt development work on the Atlantic, though it still hopes to bring that smaller, less expensive plug-in to market by sometime in 2014.
Fisker is by no means the only maker trying to form an alliance. In fact, Dave Cole, director-emeritus of the Center for Automotive Research, in Ann Arbor, Michigan, believes that even for the biggest makers the current environment requires companies to “partner or die.”
General Motors has paired up with French maker PSA Peugeot in a bid to fix its European problems. Renault and Nissan have expanded their alliance to include a growing number of joint ventures with Daimler AG, parent of Mercedes-Benz.
And even Toyota, which has traditionally favored doing as much as possible in-house, has teamed up with the likes of BMW, Ford, as well as Fisker’s battery-car rival, the Silicon Valley-based Tesla Motors. Tesla is providing the drivetrains for the new Toyota RAV4-EV. And the two plan to cooperate on the development of a new battery sports car that could serve as the revival of Toyota’ old Supra nameplate.
For Fisker, the expansion of the product line-up could prove important, and it believes it has a lot of plug-in know-how at a time when many auto industry insiders are betting that range-extending vehicles will be more popular than pure battery-electric vehicles in the short run.
But having a partner that can help lower purchasing costs for mundane materials, “like steering wheels,” would help Fisker substantially, the eponymous founder acknowledged.
The search is focused specifically on a partner. A buyer “is not something” Fisker wants, at least not now.
Its value would likely be seriously depressed at the moment considering its ongoing problems. But the maker insists it is getting things back on track. It recently hired a new CEO, former Chevrolet Volt project chief Tony Posawatz. And Joel Ewanick, the controversial former GM global marketing czar has now signed on as interim marketing chief.
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Expect to see some significant steps aimed at improving Fisker’s image and awareness, its founder promised.