Another Black Eye for CA Cleantech

FEB 10, 2012

A California company is held out as a model for the new green economy. It works its political connections in Washington to score a half-billion-dollar taxpayer subsidy from the Obama administration. It fails to deliver its much-hyped “clean energy” product. It shutters its manufacturing plant and kicks its workers to the curb.

I know. You’re thinking of Solyndra, the Freemont solar panel manufacturer that went belly up last fall.


The latest fiasco involves Fisker Automotive, an Anaheim start-up company that received funding to build plug-in hybrid electric cars though the U.S. Energy Department’s Advanced Technology Vehicles Manufacturing program.

“The story of Fisker,” said Vice President Joe Biden, announcing the federal gift back in April 2010, “is a story of ingenuity of an American company, a commitment to innovation by the U.S. government and the perseverance of the American automobile industry.”

The veep was echoed by Energy Secretary Steven Chu, the former UC Berkeley professor of physics and molecular and cell biology.

“Not only will the Fisker projects contribute to cleaner air and reduced carbon emissions,” said Chu, “they will bring innovative cars to the marketplace while putting American workers back on the job.”

By the time the Anaheim cleantech carmaker reaches full production in 2015, according to the Energy Department, its annual sales would amount to as many as 115,000 plug-in hybrids.

2,000 Workers?

Meanwhile, Fisker executives promised the start-up would employ some 2,000 assembly workers. And “industry experts” expected that that taxpayer giveaway to Fisker would also result in domestic parts suppliers and service providers increasing their employment “substantially,” according to Chu’s Energy Department.

Well, here’s what Fisker did with its taxpayer subsidy:

It brought its first vehicle — the Karma sports car — to market this past December. That was a year later than Fisker promised.

What is particularly troubling is that Fisker delivered a mere 250 of the hybrid sports cars to showrooms and at a shocking sticker price of $103,000. Rumor has it that greenie Hollywood car aficionado Leonardo DiCaprio got the first Karma luxury range-extended EV off Fisker’s assembly line.

Oh, then there’s that assembly line, which was supposed to create some 2,000 green jobs for American workers. As it turns out, Fisker’s Karma, generously subsidized by American taxypayers, was actually assembled at a factory not in Anaheim, not in California, not even in theUnited States, but in Finland of all places.

To mollify critics, Fisker execs promised they would retool a former GM plant in Deleware — Biden’s home state — to produce a second car line, the “affordable,” “family-oriented” NINA, which would carry about half the price tag of the Karma.

Alas, before Fisker could get that plant up and running in Delaware, before it could hire those couple thousand assembly workers, the Energy Department determined that something was amiss and in May last year halted payment on $336 billion of the $529 billion loan it originally awarded  the electric car manufacturer.

In a recent statement, Fisker said it is working with the Energy Department to reach a new agreement to claim the rest of its government loan. It also assured that it is not reliant exclusively on taxpayer largess, but actually has received more than $850 million in private-sector investment.

Well, if Fisker is, as Biden said, “a story of ingenuity,” that will, as Chu said, “bring innovative cars to the marketplace,” if there is sufficient demand for Fisker’s Karma and NINA by the car-buying public, the EV manufacturer should not need a taxpayer handout.

It should be able to raise all the funding it requires from private venture capitalists.

— Joseph Perkins

Tags assigned to this article:
electric vehicleFiskerJoseph BidenJoseph Perkins

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