The New Fisker AutomotiveEnlarge Photo
If one thing is needed more than any other to succeed in the automotive industry, it's money. A good product helps too, but money is the difference between that product reaching the audience it needs to, and disappearing without a trace.
For Wanxiang Group, the Chinese concern that won the Fisker Automotive bidding war back in February, money isn't a problem. Chairman and founder of Wanxiang, Lu Guanqiu, has an estimated fortune of $3.1 billion behind him. And while he's unlikely to spend his entire personal wealth to bring back the electric automaker, Guanqiu has said he'll "put every cent Wanxiang earns" into making electric vehicles. "I'll burn as much cash as it takes", he told Bloomberg in a recent interview. "Or until Wanxiang goes bust".
That won't help the Department of Energy—or U.S. taxpayers—get back the $139 million it loaned Fisker before the company went bankrupt. But if Fisker's resurrection succeeds, and the company produces the Karma, and planned Surf and Atlantic models, it could at least put some money back into the economy. It'll do the same for China, where Wanxiang intends to expand Fisker sales. Like rival Tesla Motors, Wanxiang sees China as an important future market for electric vehicles--as the market itself grows and pollution concerns dominate the headlines.
Lu, now 69, started off making tractor parts in the Chinese Cultural Revolution, and has wanted to build cars since the 1980s. Wanxiang has attempted electric cars in the past, and has spent over $800 million developing electric vehicles since 1999. Today, the company is mainly focused on electric buses, with 700 roaming roads in Shanghai, Qingdao and Hangzhou. Fisker is a very different proposition, but the company's expertise, plus Wanxiang's ownership of original battery supplier A123 Systems, should maximize its chances.
Lu told Bloomberg that there are no "shortcuts" to competing against foreign automakers—fewer still with a niche product like a luxury plug-in sports sedan, one assumes—but putting every penny Wanxiang makes into Fisker's success may give it a better chance than it had in its first life.