When you have Justin Bieber and Leonardo DiCaprio driving your cars, you must be doing something right.
They are among the Hollywood glitterati who have bought into the dream of Fisker Automotive and its gas-thrifty, rule-breaking Karma that kicks sand in the face of Detroit and the world's top luxury automakers.
When some of the auto industry elite were treating eco-friendly cars with disdain, dismissing them as largely unprofitable and giving them boxy, unappealing looks, upstart Fisker broke through with a luxury plug-in hybrid sedan.
Its sleek body raised eyebrows, while its ability to eschew a drop of gasoline for the first 33 miles or more of daily driving pleased the mileage-minded.
Yet with a year of deliveries of its first model behind it, Fisker -- maker of sexy hybrid sedans -- enters 2013 with a raft of problems.
For starters, Fisker can't make any more cars until its battery supplier is up and running again. That supplier, A123 Systems, just went up for grabs in U.S. Bankruptcy Court. A Chinese firm won the bidding, but it's not yet clear if the bid will be challenged or whether A123 is willing to keep Fisker as a customer.
Tony Posawatz, Fisker's third CEO in a year, warns that the company will run out of cars in the spring if it can't get more batteries and restart production.
And that's not even the biggest challenge. There is the matter of finding more money to keep the operation going.
The privately held company is scouring the world to link up with another automaker or find more investors. It wants to buttress the thousands who have already kicked in about $1.2 billion so it can start production in late 2014 or 2015 of its next model, a smaller, cheaper hybrid, which is expected to be a much bigger seller than the Karma. "We need financing or a partner," spokesman Russell Datz says.
It had one investor, a big one, that got away -- the federal government. Fisker spent $193 million of a $528.7 million loan from the Department of Energy before the government blocked access to the loan in May, after Fisker failed to meet key government requirements.
At least Fisker doesn't have Republican Mitt Romney kicking it around anymore. The former Massachusetts governor turned Fisker into a punching bag in questioning President Obama's spending policies during the 2012 presidential campaign. At one point he told Obama, "You pick the losers."
Fisker is the brainchild of Henrik Fisker, who designed luxury cars for Aston Martin and BMW. With Fisker, he was intent on making a splash right from the start. Only months after launching his company, he showed up at the 2008 North American International Auto Show with a concept version of his initial model, the Karma, a four-seat hybrid that was meant to compete with the likes of Jaguar and Mercedes-Benz.
It was a bold move to show up on Detroit's turf with little more than a dream for the biggest auto show of the year. But Fisker was soon attracting big backers. Venture capitalists showed up with big money, including Silicon Valley firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers. Then Fisker landed the biggest backer of all, the federal government, with a massive loan that came with strings attached -- the threat that the money spigot would be shut off if the company didn't hit certain undisclosed milestones.
Fisker set up his headquarters and design studio in Orange County, Calif., just south of Los Angeles and not far from the celebrity customers he would later seek to woo. He began work on the Karma, which was expected to sell for about $87,000, and a smaller, second model, named Atlantic, which would sell for about $55,000 and be built at a former General Motors factory in Delaware.
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