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Management fight pushes Henrik Fisker from car company he founded

March 13, 2013|By Jerry Hirsch
(Gary Malerba, AP )

Henrik Fisker, the founder of Fisker Automotive Inc., resigned from the troubled maker of expensive hybrid vehicles Wednesday.

Fisker, the executive chairman of the Anaheim company, said he left after disagreeing with the management team on the direction of the company.

The automaker, which makes the $110,000 Karma plug-in hybrid sports car, has said it needs about $500 million to launch a second, less expensive model that would be made at a factory in Wilmington, Del.

 It is negotiating with oversees investors and potential partners to raise the funds and says the talks are ongoing but that no agreement has been reached.  

In an email to industry trade journal Automotive News, Fisker wrote: "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 automaker responded with a statement, saying, "The company has a strong and experienced management team and its strategy has not changed."

"Mr. Fisker’s departure is not expected to impact the company’s pursuit of strategic partnerships and financing to support Fisker Automotive’s continued progress as a pioneer of low-emission hybrid electric powertrain technology.”

Henrik Fisker is a Danish car designer who studied at the European campus of the Pasadena-based Art Center College of Design. After graduating, he went to work at BMW's advanced design studio and later became president of its subsidiary, Designworks/USA, in Ventura County.

In 2001, Fisker moved to Ford Motor Co., first as creative director of its design center in London and then as head of the design studio in Irvine. Later, he was design director, and member of the board, at Aston Martin, the ultra-premium carmaker that Ford owned at the time.

He founded Fisker with Bernhard Koehler, a former colleague from BMW in 2007 and located the company in Orange County.

His resignation isn’t surprising considering the problems the company has faced, said Thilo Koslowski, an analyst at Gartner inc.

“The problem is that this latest announcement is leaving Fisker as a brand without a ‘soul’.  That’s the worst that can happen to any brand and will impact consumer commitment to Fisker vehicles,” Koslowski said.

But the resignation also gives the automaker “the opportunity to reemerge as a stronger albeit different brand going forward, if new investors can be found and if they make a significant commitment to the longevity of the brand,” Koslowski said.

Fisker has struggled to bring cars to market in its attempt to become a manufacturer of high-end and finely styled hybrid vehicles. Its distinctive Karma has suffered from a variety of quality problems and poor reviews from the automotive press.

Fisker ran into a cash crunch after the federal government froze an Energy Department loan to the company and its battery maker went bankrupt.

The company also has had its share of management turmoil.  In August, the automaker installed Tony Posawatz, the former head of electric vehicles at General Motors Co., as chief executive. He was the third CEO at Fisker in 2012. Posawatz succeeded Tom LaSorda, who had become CEO in February, taking over for company founder Henrik Fisker.

Among the potential partners reportedly interested in investing or possibly buying Fisker are Geely Holding Group, the Chinese company that owns Volvo, and Wanxiang Group Corp., another Chinese company, which recently bought battery maker A123 Systems Inc. out of bankruptcy. A123 builds the lithium-ion battery that goes into Fisker cars.

The automaker needs the money to restart work on the Atlantic, a $55,000, four-door rechargeable sports sedan that Fisker sees as a higher-volume model that would have a broader market.

Work on the Atlantic came to a halt last year when the federal government suspended a $529-million loan after delays in the introduction of the Karma. Fisker had drawn down about $192 million of the loan.

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Follow me on Twitter (@LATimesJerry), Facebook and Google+.

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