Commentary

Fisker's Departure From Fisker Leaves It 'Without Soul'

Fisker Automotive co-founder Henrik Fisker is, by many accounts, an inspired designer with a devoted following –- unabashed ambassadors of the $110,000 hybrid Karma have included Justin Bieber and Leonardo DiCaprio –- but they no longer include his colleagues at the company. Fisker yesterday resigned from the green automaker and made the news public with an email to selected member of the press.

"The main reasons for his resignation are several major disagreements that Henrik Fisker has with the Fisker Automotive executive management on the business strategy," the email stated, according to Reuters’ Deepa Seetharaman, who points out that the departure comes at a “sensitive time.”

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Fisker “has not produced a car since last July and is looking for a financial backer to buy a stake and help build its second model, the Atlantic plug-in hybrid,” Seetharaman writes.  

“In recent weeks, Fisker management has been looking into selling the company, weighing bids including a $350 million offer from China's Dongfeng Motor Corp., Joseph B. White and Neal E. Boudette report in the Wall Street Journal.

The company has been getting bad press since the Energy Dept. closed the tap on a $529 million loan in 2011 because of missed deadlines. “Fisker had borrowed about $193 million of the total at the time, much of which had been used for design work,” Fred Meier and James R. Healey recount in USA Today. “The rest was to have been spent to develop and build a second, less-expensive vehicle -- the $55,000 Atlantic sedan -- at a refurbished General Motors plant in Delaware. The loss of funding led to layoffs in California and Delaware and essentially put the Atlantic on hold.”

The resignation isn’t surprising, Gartner analyst Thilo Koslowski tells the Los Angeles Times’ Jerry Hirsch, given the travails at the company. “The problem is that this latest announcement is leaving Fisker as a brand without a ‘soul,’ Koslowski says. “That’s the worst that can happen to any brand and will impact consumer commitment to Fisker vehicles.” 

The company tried to stem the damage with a statement claiming that Fisker’s “presence and influence is still very much a part of Fisker Automotive.” It also maintains that “many other companies have seen their founders depart and in many cases return to influence or even lead their company in the future. The growth process of an entrepreneur and their projects are often enhanced from these changes.”

Greentech Media editor-in-chief Eric Wesoff tells the [Delaware] New Journal’s Aaron Nathans that “the departure of a founder from a technology start-up is not cause for enormous alarm” on its own. 

“It’s a red flag, but it’s no bigger a red flag than the other 20 that Fisker has shown in the last couple months,” according to Wesoff, who says the company “could turn around its problems by being acquired by a ‘larger company with more patience and a large balance sheet,’” Nathans writes.

Fisker recalled the more than 2,000 Karmas it had produced last August after a cooling fan caused a fire in a vehicles parked in a California parking lot. “The recall is another setback for Fisker, which last week named its third chief executive [Tony Posawatz] in a year,” the Los Angeles Times’ Hirsch reported at the time. “The company has been wracked recently by stalled model development, recalls, missed deadlines and employee layoffs.”

And then Consumer Reports panned the Karma as “full of flaws,’ in a review last September, USA Today’s Chris Woodyard reported.

The move marks the end of the Danish designer’s dream of launching his own car company, observesAutomotive News’ Dave Guilford, which Fisker once described as "running over fire while people are whipping you."

In an email interview with the trade publciation, Fisker said it was “amazing [how] the small Fisker Automotive team has performed from inception to the full-scale commercialization of the Fisker Karma. I have driven many luxury cars on a day-to-day basis. I still find the Fisker Karma the best day-to-day car I have ever had.” 

Fisker had been a top design executive for BMW, Ford Motor and Aston Martin, Bradley Berman reports on the New York Times “Wheels” blog, with design credits including the BMW Z8 and the Aston Martin DB9 and V8 Vantage models.

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