2012 Fisker Karma front three-quarter view

Fisker Automotive is aggressively courting Chinese automakers to bail it out of its financial problems.

Executives with knowledge of the discussions told Autoblog that Fisker representatives have made recent trips to China to discuss deals that include capital investment and outright acquisition scenarios. Those discussions are continuing this week at the Detroit Auto Show. Reuters first reported discussions between Fisker and Chinese companies.

While Fisker was once favored by many auto industry analysts and executives to get the better of rival Tesla Motors in the premium/luxury EV market, Fisker has had several setbacks to its operations. The launch of the Fisker Karma, the company's first model, has been beset with problems, as is often the case with a new car company. Its lithium-ion battery supplier, A123 Systems, went bankrupt. And the company lost hundreds of cars at its Newark port when Hurricane Sandy devastated the New Jersey-New York coastline last fall.

In addition to needing investors, Fisker is also seeking strategic partners. Tesla, which had a successful initial public offering, for example, has both Toyota and Mercedes-Benz as investors and strategic partners.

euters reported that Fisker has held substantive talks with China Grand Automotive
Services Co, a large dealership group that already has an agreement to distribute Fisker cars in China. Also mentioned by Reuters is Wanxiang Group, a Hangzhou-based major producer of automotive components that last month won an auction for A123.

Fisker has one product on the market now, the Karma plug-in hybrid, whose price tag starts at around $103,000. It has a second car in the works, the Atlantic, which is likely to start at about $55,000. Fisker received Department of Energy loans specifically earmarked to get a U.S. plant established to build the Atlantic. The total amount of the DOE loan was $329 million, of which $190 has been drawn down. However, the DOE has barred Fisker from taking additional funds in large part because of its otherwise shaky financial picture. Fisker needs about $150 million in additional funds to complete development of the Atlantic.

Interest by Chinese companies derives from a national goal in China of putting 500,000 EV or plug-in cars on the road by 2015, and five million by 2020.

One of the obvious outcomes for Fisker, if the company can make the sale to investors, is to partner up with an established automaker such as Volkswagen Group or General Motors to not only tap into those larger companies' economies of scale, but to take the Fisker and intellectual properties and tap into a potential market for luxury EVs among the China elite.

One thing is for certain: If Fisker, which has not built a car in six months, doesn't get cash or a partner, or both, pretty soon, the company will be lights out.

Or, could the Karma at least have a life as a non EV? Former General Motors vice chairman Bob Lutz is showing a modified Karma outfitted with the V8 engine from the Chevrolet Corvette ZR1 instead of the extended-range electric powertrain it was born with. The car, shown at this week's Detroit Show, is called the VL Automotive Destino, the brainchild of Lutz and industrialist Gilbert Villereal, and is intended to compete with such well-regarded performance four doors as the Porsche Panamera and Aston Martin Rapide.