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Chinese Automakers Geely And Dongfeng Competing For Stake In Fisker


2012 Fisker Karma

2012 Fisker Karma

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Struggling extended-range electric automaker Fisker had a difficult year in 2012. Shortly after its Karma sedan hit the market, it was plagued by a series of recalls for battery, software and cooling issues.

Fisker lost access to previously-committed Department of Energy loans for failing to meet project milestones, and then it lost some 300 Karmas when Superstorm Sandy hit a vehicle storage facility at Port Newark, New Jersey. Its insurer has since denied payment on the claim, and lawyers must now decide who’s right and who’s wrong.

As if these incidents weren’t enough, Fisker’s battery supplier, A123 Systems, filed for bankruptcy in October of 2012, leaving Fisker without the lithium-ion cells necessary to continue Karma production.

Following this “perfect storm” of misery, Fisker announced last December that it was actively seeking alliance partners, and in January it appointed an outside firm to manage cash flow as it worked with potential buyers or investors.

Now, Reuters explains that Chinese automakers Zhejiang Geely Holding Group and Dongfeng Motor Group are the only serious bidders for a majority share in Fisker. Though companies in South Korea and Europe had previously expressed interest in the electric automaker, only the two Chinese firms have presented written offers.

Of the two, Geely is seen as a better fit for Fisker. First, the company already has experience acquiring a foreign automaker, as it purchased Volvo from Ford in 2010. Geely also has a leaner management structure than Dongfeng, meaning it can likely complete the transaction to acquire Fisker with fewer roadblocks.

While China frowns on investment in foreign automakers these days, the exception is foreign automakers building electric cars. There’s a strong push within China to build alternatively-powered vehicles, and buying into Fisker would help promote this goal.

Wanxiang Group, the new owners of battery maker A123 Systems' assets, will likely have some say in the issue as well. Wanxiang had previously indicated its intent to help support Fisker, which it sees as its most important customer.

Assuming the transaction with either Geely or Dongfeng moves forward, it will surely  raise more questions than it answers. Fisker’s Karma sedan is currently produced by Valmet in Finland, but could production be moved to China under new owners? What about the Atlantic sedan, which was to be built at a former GM plant in Delaware?

For now, neither Fisker nor its named suitors is willing to comment on the issue. This much is certain, however: there will be much more to report on Fisker in the coming weeks.
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