c Struggling hybrid carmaker Fisker Automotive named Tony Posawatz, a General Motors veteran who oversaw production of the Chevy Volt, its new CEO on Tuesday, making him the third executive to helm the startup in a year.
Lead Fisker board director Ray Lane of Silicon Valley venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, the auto company's largest investor, said Tuesday he has known Posawatz for a couple of years and recruited him to replace Tom LaSorda, who was named CEO in February. LaSorda, a veteran of Chrysler and GM, had replaced company founder Henrik Fisker.
Lane said Fisker originally envisioned Posawatz as chief operating officer, but the board ultimately decided to offer him the CEO job, and board members were thrilled when Posawatz accepted.
"It's a big coup," Lane said in an interview. "When Tony decided to retire from GM, everybody in the world called him, from the Department of Energy to other OEMs (original equipment manufacturers). We called him too."
Fisker, based in Anaheim, makes the $102,000 luxury plug-in hybrid Fisker Karma and is working on the Atlantic, a family sedan it hopes to launch in late 2014.
The latest executive shake-up comes amid growing competition from other all-electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles entering the market. Fisker has been plagued by production delays, software glitches and trouble getting its Delaware manufacturing plant up and running.
Posawatz, 52, is widely seen as an executive with the technical know-how to fix any remaining kinks in the Karma and successfully launch the Atlantic. LaSorda will leave the company but will remain an adviser.
"Tony is the perfect CEO for Fisker," said LaSorda in a statement. "He has been at the forefront of the industry's technological revolution and one of the few people in the world to bring an EV (electric vehicle) to mass production."
Fisker was awarded a $529 million loan guarantee from the Department of Energy, including $169 million for the Karma. But the largest portion of the loan was to support production of the Atlantic and bring a shuttered GM plant in Delaware back to life.
Fisker has drawn down about $193 million, or one-third, of its loan; the remaining $336 million is frozen due to delays in meeting sales and production targets. All Energy Department loan guarantees have strict guidelines in place to protect taxpayers, and companies are only able to draw down funds as they meet certain milestones. With the bulk of the DOE loan frozen, Fisker is actively trying to raise more than $300 million.
"The loan is still frozen," Lane said. "We have to replace what we haven't drawn from the DOE. We have to come up with that money. That's hard to do. But we're actively raising money."
A Fisker Karma was recently involved in an accident in Woodside, where the front left side of the vehicle caught on fire. No one was injured. Fisker announced that the source of the fire was not the battery pack, but the investigation into the cause of the fire is ongoing.
"Our suspicion is it's the cooling fan," Lane said Tuesday. "We've not had a problem with the battery. A123 has produced a great battery. If you look at our launch issues, we've had fewer issues than most cars. But Fisker is in the press, and people love to write about us and that we're beleaguered. We have to fight that."
Fisker has sold more than 1,000 Fisker Karma's to date. Silicon Valley Karma owners include Lane and Pat Romano, CEO of electric vehicle charging station startup Coulomb Technologies. Former Vice President Al Gore also has one.
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