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Weekly Recap: The divergent paths of Tesla and Fisker

08/02/2014   [Original: Autoblog]
Category: Tech, Audi, BMW, Chevrolet, Jaguar, Mercedes Benz, Fisker, Tesla, Electric

Fisker Automotive

There's no doubt that Tesla is downshifting while Fisker has been grinding its gears. But it wasn't always that way.

In the wake of Tesla's recent success, it's easy to forget that there were once two California electric carmakers with bright futures.

Remember Fisker Automotive?

Both companies were back in the news this week. Tesla confirmed it will team with Panasonic to build a battery factory, and Fisker won approval of its bankruptcy plan to pay creditors and allow it to have a fresh start with Chinese investors, Wanxiang Group.

There's no doubt that Tesla is downshifting while Fisker has been grinding its gears. But it wasn't always that way.

Five years ago, many observers thought Fisker had just as much potential to make a go of it as Tesla. Elon Musk was still known as the SpaceX and PayPal guy who supposedly knew nothing about cars. Fisker, meanwhile, was founded and led by Henrik Fisker, an industry celebrity who designed sexy sports cars like the Aston Martin DB9 and the BMW Z8.

Separated by about six hours of California highway, Tesla and Fisker were billed as the new wave of American manufacturing, two electric carmakers that could do what the Rust Belt-anchored Detroit Three could not. Their rivalry became so heated, Tesla even sued Fisker in 2008 alleging theft of technology, with Fisker emerging as the nominal victor, netting $1.1 million in court fees from Tesla.

As recently as 2012, Tesla only had one car, the Roadster, which was built on a Lotus chassis with an electric-powered motor in place of a traditional engine. It was the definition of a niche product. That year, however, Tesla followed up with another car, the Model S. With an all-electric range of 265 miles and the capability to sprint to 60 mph in 4.2 seconds, the Model S was a runaway hit. It had the size and power of a BMW 5-Series, and it didn't burn a drop of fuel.

Continue reading Weekly Recap: The divergent paths of Tesla and Fisker

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Fisker's new owner working out Karma's 250 'bugs' before introducing second model

07/29/2014   [Original: Autoblog]
Category: Hybrids/Alternative, Sedans/Saloons, Plants/Manufacturing, Fisker, Luxury

Fisker Atlantic

Fisker may be down, but it might not stay down forever. The company behind the Karma luxury hybrid shut down late last year and was purchased by Chinese OEM supplier Wanxiang Group, which intends to restart production. It just can't tell us when.

Speaking with Automotive News Europe, Wanxgiang executives indicated they have some work on their hands, sorting out 250 "bugs" it has found in the existing Karma. Once it has those sorted out, it plans to start production again at the Valmet plant in Finland before potentially moving assembly to the plant in Delaware that Fisker had acquired from General Motors. The executives were touring the United States to inspect their battery factory in Michigan, visit the plant in Delaware and meet with government officials in Washington.

Wanxiang apparently has even bigger ambitions than that, however. The latest news is that it intends to expand the rebooted Fisker with a second model sometime in 2017. The company has not provided any details as to what that form that model might take, but prior to its bankruptcy, Fisker displayed a smaller concept sedan called the Atlantic at the 2012 New York Auto Show.

Fisker had previously revealed the Surf wagon and Sunset convertible concepts based on the Karma as well, but there's no telling at this point if Wanxiang has any intent on putting those into production any time in the near future.

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New Fisker owner ready to go broke building EVs, challenging Tesla

05/20/2014   [Original: Autoblog]
Category: EV/Plug-in, Hybrid, China, Fisker

Wanxiang Qianchao Co. Ltd. Chairman Lu Guanqiu poses for a p

Now this is the kind of fighting spirit we like to see. Lu Guanqiu is a Chinese billionaire who has visited the White House alongside Chinese president Hu Jintao in 2011. He's worth an estimated $3.1 billion. And he wants to take on Tesla Motors and other EV makers with his newly purchased company, Fisker Automotive.

Lu is the chairman and founder of China's Wanxiang Group Corp., which bought Fisker for just under $150 million earlier this year. It also purchased battery supplier A123 Systems last year. Speaking to Bloomberg recently, Lu said that EV technology is at the top of his list of ways to go broke. "I'll put every cent that Wanxiang earns into making electric vehicles. I'll burn as much cash as it takes to succeed, or until Wanxiang goes bust," he said. Ahhh, inspiring.

"I'll burn as much cash as it takes to succeed, or until Wanxiang goes bust" - Lu Guanqiu

Exactly how and when new Fisker vehicles come to market - or if they'll even be Fiskers when they do - has been the subject of some debate. As part of the Fisker bankruptcy auction, Lu and Wanxiang now own an old, empty General Motors plant in Wilmington, DE. Lu told Bloomberg that Wanxiang has plans to first start building EVs, including the Karma plug-in hybrid, in the US (which suggests that restarting Karma production at Valmet is not going to happen) and to later build them in China. Right now, Lu's company only makes one type of electric vehicle: buses. Lu told Bloomberg he knows it will take a while to get his electric cars to market: "The road is still very long. We want to concentrate for now on manufacturing in the US. If I don't succeed, my son will continue with it. If he doesn't make it, my grandson will."

Currently, emails sent to the "New Fisker" website are met with an automated response that promises a more personal touch later. It also says that the company is "very well funded and have a great plan to create a world class automotive company." That the new owner is ready to go broke doing so is not mentioned.

You can read the New Fisker email and see a Bloomberg video on Lu below.

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Fisker could be renamed when production restarts in 2015

04/25/2014   [Original: Autoblog]
Category: Sedans/Saloons, Fisker, Electric

Fisker Karma

The Orange County Register has an update on Wanxiang's plans for Fisker, and it starts with the idea that you would see brand new Karmas back on the road in mid-2015. From there the goals get less certain, the OCR saying the Surf station wagon "could ship in 2016" and the mid-priced Atlantic "might come in 2017."

The targets came from an interview with interim CEO Roger Brown as he laid out how fluid the present situation is. The primary certainty, according to Brown, is that new owner Wanxiang is determined to execute on its vision and "build a great car company." The puzzle pieces that make that picture are still being assembled - even the name of the post-bankruptcy company, Fisker Automotive for now, is being debated.

No matter what the name will be, Wanxiang and Brown need to establish the blood and bones of a company that can provide what the original Fisker Automotive didn't. Brown said they're looking for a permanent CEO over the next three months, they need to settle on a location for headquarters and increase the staff from the current 25 to the 200 or so necessary to engineering a fully fleshed-out Karma and successive products, and figure out where cars are going to be built. Concerning workers, Brown revealed that, "We've been flooded with people that want to come back." As for manufacturing in the Delaware plant that Fisker Automotive still controls or somewhere else, we've heard there are even odds on US production, but the final answer will probably be delivered by the new CEO.

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Henrik Fisker designs a chopper for Lauge Jensen

04/18/2014   [Original: Autoblog]
Category: Concept Cars, Misc. Auto Shows, Motorcycles, Fisker

Lauge Jensen Viking by Henrik Fisker

Henrik Fisker has designed some seriously beautiful vehicles over the course of his career thus far. You'd naturally associate his name with the Karma hybrid that shares it, or maybe the reskinned Mercedes SL and BMW 6 Series he crafted as a coachbuilder, but he was also responsible for such beautiful shapes as the BMW Z8, Aston Martin DB9 and V8 Vantage, Tesla Model S and Artega GT. And now he's turned his attention to a motorcycle.

Called the Viking concept, the Fisker-designed chopper is the product of a collaboration with Lauge Jensen, a Danish custom bike shop owned by Lego scion Anders Kirk Johansen. The 660-pound Viking packs an air-cooled 45-degree V-twin engine (built, incidentally in Wisconsin, we wonder by whom) churning out 100 horsepower with a six-speed transmission to propel it to a 130-mile-per-hour top speed and meeting Euro IV emissions regulations. It's packaged into a rather sleek take on the classic hog, the curve of the fuel tank melding into the seat and the rear fender.

The Viking is set to be unveiled this week at the Top Marques show in Monaco where Lauge Jensen will watching to see how it's received. Given a positive reception, it could soon join the Great Dane in the company's lineup. Considering that bike already sells for €42,800 (about $60k), and that the Viking would likely command an even bigger premium, that would make for one very expensive chopper. Still, it might be one of the least expensive ways to get your hands on a Henrik Fisker original.

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Almost $1 billion in claims filed against bankrupt Fisker

03/01/2014   [Original: Autoblog]
Category: EV/Plug-in, USA, Fisker

Fisker Karma

You may have scoffed when the US Department of Energy sold the rights to its $168 million outstanding Fisker Automotive loan to Hybrid Tech Holdings last December for just $25 million, or about 15 cents on the dollar. It turns out that might be the going rate for anyone with claims against the bankrupt extended-range plug-in maker, though. That's because Fisker, which declared bankruptcy in November, has generated $985.4 million in claims from 618 not-so-happy parties, Delaware Online says, citing a bankruptcy filing from last week. Fisker stopped making its sporty but troubled Karma in mid-2012.

Wanxiang America won an auction for Fisker's assets, including its Delaware factory, for $149.2 million. That leaves $836 million, or about 85 percent of the collective value of the claims against the company. Naturally, Hybrid Tech Holdings, which was beaten out by Wanxiang in the bidding for the assets, has jumped in line to see if it can make good on what was formerly that DOE loan. The state of Delaware, where Fisker had acquired an old General Motors factory, is seeking $20 million stemming from some incentives it provided up front. And Finland's Valmet Automotive wants $8.5 million for its work with the company.

Former Fisker employees say the company is on the hook for another $6 million, and none other than General Motors itself is claiming it is owed the same amount. Then there is the lawsuit we first heard about in December that was filed against Fisker and some of its executives who were collecting hefty paychecks while no cars were being produced. Add it all up and you get almost a billion dollars. Good times.

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Wanxiang wins bid for Fisker at $149.2 million

02/16/2014   [Original: Autoblog]
Category: EV/Plug-in, Hybrid, Legislation and Policy, China, USA, Fisker

2012 Fisker Karma

Fisker Automotive has been sold, ladies and gentlemen. According to Automotive News, Wanxiang from China won the company after a few tense days of bidding between it and Hybrid Tech Holdings from Hong Kong. The winning bid came in at $149.2 million, which, rather interestingly, is almost six times the amount Fisker itself sought to recover from bankruptcy.

That bid includes $126.2 million in cash and $8 million in assumed liabilities, and it came after 19 rounds between Wanxiang and Hybrid Tech. Wanxiang also owns the company that supplies batteries, or at least would supply them if and when the Karma goes back on sale.

While all this seems pretty official, it still needs to be approved by US Bankruptcy Judge Kevin Gross, who has scheduled a hearing on Feb. 18 in Wilmington, Del.

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Fisker assets will be auctioned tomorrow, here's the situation today

02/12/2014   [Original: Autoblog]
Category: EV/Plug-in, Hybrid, Fisker

fisker atlantic studio

The remains of Fisker Automotive - which might not even include the name and logo - are supposed to finally be sold off tomorrow, but the scene before the auction is anything but clear. As as reminder, the two bidding parties are Wanxiang and Hybrid Tech Holdings. Hybrid Tech was denied an emergency motion in court last week that would have lifted an earlier ruling that limited how much debt it can use to try and buy Fisker. The limit remains at $25 million.

Bloomberg says that the winner's spoils are not so much the cars or the design but the 36 patents involved (about half are pending) as well as an established vehicle brand in both the US and China. The chief economist for the National Automobile Dealers Association, Steven Szakaly, told Bloomberg that, "[the auction is] not about the manufacturing, It's about the intellectual property." The patents include things like the electric drivetrain tech, the solar technology and the design of the mustache grille.

Fisker executives have been hit with a $20-million lawsuit that claims they misled investors.

And because lawsuits are easier to get than a DOE loan, a number of Fisker executives and the company's legal team have been hit with a $20-million lawsuit that claims Fisker misled investors. The Wall Street Journal reports that Fisker is accused of withholding information that would have given a clearer picture of Fisker's financial situation. According to the WSJ, the lawsuit says the Fisker team kept the negative news quiet, "because they needed huge sums of additional cash to fund Fisker Automotive to position the Company for a sale or an initial public offering...without plaintiffs' and other investors' money, Fisker Automotive was not a viable company."

Meanwhile, Hybrid Tech Holding has hired a former Ford executive, Martin Leach, to be better prepared to manage the Fisker assets should Hybrid Tech win tomorrow. Leach told Reuters that he has been working on a business plan "for months," and it starts with the company taking care of current Karma owners and re-engaging suppliers. The most difficult challenge, we imagine, will be with A123 Systems, which supplied the Karma's batteries but was bought by Wanxiang over a year ago. Leach said that Hybrid could get new batteries from Boston Power.

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Fisker assests will be auctioned tomorrow, here's the situation today

02/12/2014   [Original: Autoblog]
Category: EV/Plug-in, Hybrid, Fisker

fisker atlantic studio

The remains of Fisker Automotive - which might not even include the name and logo - are supposed to finally be sold off tomorrow, but the scene before the auction is anything but clear. As as reminder, the two bidding parties are Wanxiang and Hybrid Tech Holdings. Hybrid Tech was denied an emergency motion in court last week that would have lifted an earlier ruling that limited how much debt it can use to try and buy Fisker. The limit remains at $25 million.

Bloomberg says that the winner's spoils are not so much the cars or the design but the 36 patents involved (about half are pending) as well as an established vehicle brand in both the US and China. The chief economist for the National Automobile Dealers Association, Steven Szakaly, told Bloomberg that, "[the auction is] not about the manufacturing, It's about the intellectual property." The patents include things like the electric drivetrain tech, the solar technology and the design of the mustache grille.

Fisker executives have been hit with a $20-million lawsuit that claims they misled investors.

And because lawsuits are easier to get than a DOE loan, a number of Fisker executives and the company's legal team have been hit with a $20-million lawsuit that claims Fisker misled investors. The Wall Street Journal reports that Fisker is accused of withholding information that would have given a clearer picture of Fisker's financial situation. According to the WSJ, the lawsuit says the Fisker team kept the negative news quiet, "because they needed huge sums of additional cash to fund Fisker Automotive to position the Company for a sale or an initial public offering...without plaintiffs' and other investors' money, Fisker Automotive was not a viable company."

Meanwhile, Hybrid Tech Holding has hired a former Ford executive, Martin Leach, to be better prepared to manage the Fisker assets should Hybrid Tech win tomorrow. Leach told Reuters that he has been working on a business plan "for months," and it starts with the company taking care of current Karma owners and re-engaging suppliers. The most difficult challenge, we imagine, will be with A123 Systems, which supplied the Karma's batteries but was bought by Wanxiang over a year ago. Leach said that Hybrid could get new batteries from Boston Power.

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Report: Fisker asset sale may not include name, logo

02/05/2014   [Original: Autoblog]
Category: Sedans/Saloons, Government/Legal, Fisker

Fisker logo

Always read the fine print before you sign the contract. That platitude is taking on new life as word comes that the winning bidder for bankrupt plug-in hybrid manufacturer Fisker may not actually earn the rights to use the company's name and logo. According to Delaware Online, that's because Fisker Automotive doesn't actually own either - they're the property of a different company called Fisker Coachbuild, LLC, and they were used under license by the carmaker since 2008.

This interesting bifurcation of assets brings to mind a previous bit of auto history - Rolls-Royce and Vickers.

As it turns out, Fisker Coachbuild not only designs cars and components, it also has the merchandising rights to the Fisker name and logo for things like apparel and branded tchotchkes. How did this happen? According to the report, Coachbuild is a Fisker stockholder, and in 2008, a contract was signed by Bernhard Koehler (co-founder of Fisker and then-chief operating officer of Coachbuild) and designer and company namesake Henrik Fisker. Koehler and Fisker are actually in the logo, in a fashion, since it is supposed to represent the two men (the vertical lines) looking at the sunset (the red half circle) over the ocean (blue).

Fisker Coachbuild attorneys have now put the bankruptcy court on official notice about their ownership of these key assets, and it's unclear if this news will affect the actions of leading bidders Wanxiang America, Inc. and Hybrid Tech Holdings. Coachbuild does sound somewhat conciliatory, saying "...it is likely that Coachbuild will consent to the assignment of the rights provided for under the Trademark Agreement as part of the proposed sale" while simultaneously "reserving its rights under applicable law to bar the assumption and assignment of Trademark Agreement without its prior written consent."

This interesting bifurcation of assets brings to mind a previous bit of auto history. Back in 1998, British industrial conglomerate Vickers executed a now-legendary bit of wheeling-and-dealing that saw it sell the physical assets of luxury automaker Rolls-Royce to the Volkswagen Group. We say 'legendary' because it only sold the physical assets to VW - not the trademarks associated with them. Those trademarks included the Rolls-Royce name, famed double-R iconography and other assets - assets Vickers subsequently sold to BMW. It was a coup for both Vickers and BMW, and left VW execs red-faced and determined to make Bentley (a brand whose trademarks it did successfully acquire in the Rolls deal) its premiere luxury brand.

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