Even the car of the future needs old-fashioned sales technology.
Irvine-based Fisker Automotive said Tuesday that it had signed up 32 new-car dealers in North America to sell its plug-in hybrid sedan, which begins production late this year.
"Our retail partners are our most important assets," said Vic Doolan, a Fisker board member who played a central role in locating prospective dealers. "They are the face of the company."
The announcement is the latest step in the company's bid to be the first carmaker to bring plug-in hybrid technology to market. Several large automakers, including General Motors Corp., are also working on plug-in hybrid drivetrains but aren't set to deliver them for at least 18 months.
At the same time, a growing number of start-ups working on similar technology have eschewed dealerships. For example, San Carlos, Calif.-based Tesla Motors, maker of an all-electric roadster, sells directly to consumers and owns its two stores.
Fisker hopes to sell as many as 15,000 Karmas -- which run on electric motors powered by lithium ion batteries and carry a gasoline generator to extend their range -- per year. Company executives say that by using already established new-car dealers, Fisker doesn't need to fund its own new-car lots or build a sales force.
Pasadena dealer Dan Gaby plans to dedicate one of his three standing showrooms for Fisker. He recently consolidated his separate Hyundai, Hummer and Chevrolet dealerships into just two showrooms, freeing up room for another brand. Beyond that, he said, the commitment is relatively minimal: Fisker asks its dealers to buy two vehicles (which retail at $87,900 apiece), update their service bays for the new technology and dedicate some floor space to Fisker alone.
"We had the capacity, and with all the buzz in California about the environment, this product fits well into what we offer the public," Gaby said.
Fisker announced dealerships in 16 states plus British Columbia, with eight in California. One is in Santa Monica, where Mike Sullivan, owner of nine dealerships including Toyota, Lexus and Porsche, plans to put the Fisker showroom.
Sullivan believes that selling Fiskers could become "quite profitable" once the economy improves.
"We need to be realistic and get this off the ground together," said Sullivan, who said he planned to buy a Karma for himself.
Fisker has 1,300 pre-orders for the Karma and plans to begin delivery in early 2010.
Chief Executive Henrik Fisker has said that he hopes to recruit as many as 45 dealers in North America and 40 in Europe.