28th February 2012

Fisker Founder Out, Former Chrysler Chief LaSorda To Be New CEO

posted in Car News Articles |
Just the Facts:

  • Co-Founder Henrik Fisker surrenders reins at Fisker Automotive.
  • Former Chrysler CEO Tom LaSorda takes over as Fisker’s new chief executive.
  • Company confident of “bright future,” despite apparent loss of $396 million federal loan.

ANAHEM, California ق€” Fisker Automotive co-founder Henrik Fisker has stepped out of daily operations, replaced as chief executive of the luxury hybrid maker by former Chrysler chief Tom LaSorda.

The move, announced earlier today, will see Fisker move into the role of executive chairman, responsible for global expansion and design strategy for the company he co-founded with longtime business associate Bernard Koehler.

The management shakeup has been expected since mid-December, when LaSorda was named vice chairman of Fisker Automotive’s board and head of strategic planning for the company. It follows news earlier this month that the company had lost access to $396 million in federal loan guarantees after missing several production and sales targets and had temporarily stopped work on its Delaware production plant and laid off 26 of the 100 workers there.

Fisker and LaSorda portrayed the management change as amicable and part of a long-term plan. But speculation remains that LaSorda was brought in under pressure from investors who have pumped nearly $860 million into the company only to see production and sales goals slip and that huge federally backed loan disappear.

In a brief press conference this morning, Henrik Fisker characterized the management move as “really exciting news” as the four-year-old company starts “the next chapter as a full-fledged” carmaker.

It isn’t unusual for an entrepreneurial company founder to step aside in favor of a trained operations specialist ق€” sometimes willingly, sometimes at the behest of investors who want to see progress that will bring them profits. Founders are often visionaries with little in the way of day-to-day management skills.

Tesla Automotive Co-Founder Martin Eberhard was booted out of his company altogether in 2008 when investor Elon Musk grew impatient with progress at the company. Musk, also a company co-founder, has been chairman and chief executive of Tesla ever since and last year took the company public in a $226 million stock offering that valued the company at more than $1.3 billion.

Fisker had been a top automotive designer at BMW and Aston Martin before teaming with fellow Aston Martin design shop executive Koehler to start a custom auto design company in 2005.

That company, Fisker Coachbuild, morphed into Fisker Automotive in 2007 when Fisker and Koehler decided the timing was ripe for a high-end plug-in electric sport sedan. Their first car, the Fisker Karma, has just gone on sale after more than a year of delays.

It was those holdups that apparently cost the company continued access to its federally guaranteed loan after drawing down $196 million ق€” most of which was used to complete engineering on the Karma. To date the company has produced about 2,000 of the $97,000 plug-in hybrids and has delivered 800 to customers around the globe. About 3,000 of the cars had been ordered in advance of production.

Fisker had intended to use the remaining loan funds from the Department of Energy’s advanced automotive manufacturing loan program to complete the outfitting of the Delaware plant that it had acquired from General Motors and plans to use for a new line of smaller, less-expensive ($47,000 before incentives) plug-in hybrids called the “Project Nina” cars.

LaSorda said the Nina cars are the “growth builders” for Fisker Automotive and that the company intends to move forward as soon as additional funding is arranged. He and Henrik Fisker both said that the company is talking to private investors and continues renegotiating its loan guarantee terms with the Energy Department; they are confident that adequate funding is available.

Fisker investors include green-technology funding giants Palo Alto Investors and Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers ق€” former Vice President Al Gore is a partner ق€” and the investment arm of the oil-rich emirate of Qatar.

“This company has a bright future,” said LaSorda, who co-founded a private investment fund after leaving Chrysler in 2009 and himself has invested in Fisker Automotive.

LaSorda said that Fisker is considering partnerships with other automakers as part of its strategy. “As part of our future strategy, we will be seeking strong partnerships and alliances as Fisker continues to grow as a brand,” he said.

Inside Line says: You gotta break eggs to make omelettes.

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