Fisker's sleek and sporty Karma plug-in hybrid and its upcoming Project NINA got a shot in the arm late last week when the U.S. Department of Energy confirmed a $528.7 million loan for the development and production of the two cars. Rapidly transcending the rocky startup phase, Fisker is now poised to enter the equally treacherous realm of small carmaker.

To date, Fisker's Karma has wowed auto showgoers and Internet surfers, but has managed little else--its one public driving event was limited to a brief test at Laguna Seca with no journalists on board. But the company, helmed by famed designer Henrik Fisker, is nonetheless making a grab for viability and validity with the aid of the DOE.

Vice President Joe Biden says Fisker's development and production loan will help "America's auto industry reclaim its top position in the global market." The statement is grounded in Fisker's plans to use the closed General Motors Boxwood Plant in Wilmington, Delaware, where it will built the Karma and Project NINA, an "affordable, family-oriented plug-in hybrid" due in 2012. Full production isn't expected until 2015, however. Once the factory is fully ramped-up, Fisker hopes to be able to move 115,000 vehicles yearly through its doors.

The first Karmas won't be built there, however--in order to meet the company's late-2010 target release date, the cars will be manufactured under contract by Valmet in Finland. Production there is slated to start soon with the first vehicles delivered to customers sometime in the third quarter.

For more on Fisker, check out our previous coverage.