Fisker Automotive Insider: It’s Not Over

By · April 11, 2013

Fisker Karma

Fisker Automotive, the maker of a $100,000 sleek plug-in hybrid, might be moving toward bankruptcy, but the company still has a future. That’s the message conveyed by a former Fisker employee with knowledge about the company’s operations, in an exclusive interview with PluginCars.com.

According to the source, media reports depicting Fisker Automotive at a permanent dead-end are based on unsubstantiated information about negotiations with China-based companies vying to buy the company. Stories were leaked in order to devalue the company and drive it into bankruptcy, so an acquiring company could get a better deal.

“Why would you buy the company before bankruptcy and pay top dollar, when you can pay bottom dollar for the same stuff?” said the source, who asked to remain anonymous due to ties with the company.

The source characterized Henrik Fisker, the company’s co-founder, as persistently proud of the Karma—despite mixed critical reviews and technical glitches. “He never stopped believing in the viability of the product.”

According to the source, it took everybody by surprise when Mr. Fisker left, a step he took only after he believed that he could not affect positive change for the company. “He wanted distance himself from the decisions being made.”

The former employee added, “Don’t count out Henrik Fisker. We haven’t seen the last of him.”

The testimony offered in the interview, if taken at face value, represents a defensive posture. It could also be interpreted as revealing a critical weakness at the company—an entire organization dazzled by the beauty of an expensive sports car, yet unable to see and avoid the daunting roadblocks facing any automotive start-up company, especially one introducing a new vehicle platform with new advanced technology.

Undercurrent of Negativity

The source said that sales were negatively impacted because shoppers didn’t want to buy a $100,000 from a company that was portrayed as on the brink of closing. Based on the interview, for much of Fisker’s history, the viability of the company has been undermined by factors unrelated to the vehicle it sells or the company’s operations. The politics have been “very nasty.”

“When you’re labeled a loser company by a presidential candidate, when you are trying to do something innovative, brave and forward-thinking on behalf of the U.S. taxpayer, it beats you down,” said the source. “It’s hurtful on a personal and corporate level.” The former employee believes that 99 percent of the American population first heard of Fisker Automotive during the 2012 presidential debates, when Mitt Romney disparaged the company, strictly for political gain.

“Why would you criticize a company trying to put an American company in the lead in terms of automotive technology? Fisker was trying to put us back in the lead again, and we were constantly getting hammered for tying. There was no support for the home team.”

The former employee painted a picture of a devoted staff of several hundred employees, working against all adds (and with great personal sacrifice) to create a new breed of American automobile company—built on homegrown ingenuity, engineering prowess, design expertise, and hard work. The entire company was deeply concerned about repaying its investors and lenders, including the nearly $200 million it received in low-interest government loans.

What’s Next?

The source described Tony Posawatz, the company’s current chief executive (and formerly the line director for the Chevrolet Volt) as “talented,” but that he “got more than he bargained for.” Upon arrival in August 2012, Posawatz had to immediately switch his focus from the engineering of a future more affordable follow-up Fisker vehicle to the company’s financial problems. “He’s never been a C.E.O. before.”

The source would not speculate about what’s next for the company, only to repeat that Fisker employees put every ounce of effort to making the Karma plug-in hybrid a success. “After all the kinks were worked out, the Karma is a phenomenal car. There’s nothing else that looks like that, nothing else with that kind of technology in it.” The source put the Karma in the same category as the Aston Martin Rapide or Maserati Quattroporte, “but with better fuel economy than a Prius,” repeating a line often used by the company to market the vehicle.

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