Timeline uncertain for Fisker’s Delaware car plant

Posted: February 09, 2012

Fisker Automotive Inc., which this week said it was laying off 26 workers at a former General Motors plant in Wilmington being readied for the manufacture of hybrid cars, said Thursday it was unclear when production would begin there, given protracted talks over financing with the U.S. Department of Energy.

The Anaheim, Calif.-based company has drawn no money since May from a federally-backed $528.7 million loan for green car production. Fisker and federal officials have been discussing continuing the loan despite several missed milestones that had been set to remain in compliance, Fisker spokesman Roger Ormisher said Thursday. Fisker had drawn $193 million before funding stopped.

The company was delayed until November in introducing its luxury Karma hybrid to U.S. consumers. Costing roughly $100,000 and built overseas with half its parts from U.S. suppliers, the Karma competes with Porsche and Maserati, and was intended to be the first of Fisker's U.S. market products before a more affordable Nina model would be built in Delaware.

The company and the Energy Department have been discussing adjusting some loan compliance terms so that funding resumes and plans move forward with the next phase of Fisker's plan: building the four-door Nina sedan at the 3.2-million-square-foot former GM plant on Boxwood Road near Wilmington that it acquired out of bankruptcy, Ormisher said.

A timetable for when that might occur was unclear.

"It depends on the funding, at the end of the day," Ormisher said. "We've obviously ramped down preparing the factory, which we think is a sensible and prudent business decision. We can ramp up very rapidly once the funding's back in place."

Ormisher said Fisker had raised $860 million in private equity and other capital over the last few months but was eager to move forward with the federal financing.

"We'd like to resolve it as soon as possible," Ormisher said.

An Energy Department spokesman said Thursday that Fisker's delays in meeting sales and production targets - "common for start-ups" - were why payouts had been stopped.

"As Fisker works through those issues and incorporates lessons learned from the production of the Karma, the department is working with Fisker to review a revised business plan and determine the best path forward so the company can meet its benchmarks, produce cars and employ workers here in America," said spokesman Damien LaVera.

The issue has been on the radar of Delaware Gov. Jack Markell, whose state gave Fisker a $12.5 million loan that becomes a grant if 2,495 people are employed at the factory by 2015 and if Fisker invests $175 million into retrofitting the facility.

"It's a source of some frustration, but we are hopeful that [the Department of Energy] and Fisker will continue their discussions and that those discussions could lead to people being back to work building cars in Delaware," said gubernatorial spokesman Brian Selander.

As many as 200 or more staff and contract workers at one time have cleared the factory of old machinery, though only 30 or 40 remain after layoffs. The factory is ready for the installation of new equipment, Ormisher said.

Contact staff writer Maria Panaritis at 215-854-2431 or mpanaritis@phillynews.com or @panaritism on Twitter.

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