The Fisker Karma, outside the Detroit Athletic Club Mon... The Fisker Karma, outside the Detroit Athletic Club Monday.
Fisker Automotive is having a helluva time lately, what with one of its cars setting itself on fire in a California parking lot, the Department of Energy backing out on more than half of its $529 million loan promise, and Consumer Reports telling the public that the $100,000 Fisker Karma is "plagued with flaws."

But its new CEO is on the offensive, saying the company is putting those problems behind and moving in to a new era, one which means the company will slow down, focus on quality, and push ahead with plans for a second car.

Tony Posawatz, former head of development for General Motor's Chevy Volt, defended the company, arguing that many of its problems stemmed from a startup company trying to do too much too fast. Five weeks into the job, Posawatz told the Automotive Press Association Monday he's got a long list of things to do. High on that list is remaking the company's tattered public image.

Fisker is "getting the drama behind us," he said, and working toward becoming a publicly traded company. It's also searching for potential alliances with other automakers. Both moves would help Fisker raise the cash needed to fund production of a more affordable model.

The company needs to fix its image quickly. It's next model, the Fisker Atlantic, will be priced at $55,000, still out of reach for most consumers but a more viable option for luxury car customers.

Although plans haven't been finalized for the Atlantic – the start-up automaker is about $150 million short of the cash needed to build it – the company has already figured out what will be under the hood: an engine from the BMW 3-series. Fisker has inked an agreement with BMW to use the current 3-series 4-cylinder turbo engine in the Atlantic. Like the Chevy Volt, is uses advanced batteries to power an electric motor and then kicks in a gasoline-powered engine as a backup when the battery drains.

Although he wouldn't go into many specifics about the marketing and public relations plan, Posawatz said Fisker is going to take a combination of a grassroots approach while leveraging the popularity of some of the celebrities that drive the car. Leonardo DiCaprio is an owner of the $100,000 Karma, and Justin Bieber took his (a present for his 18th birthday) and wrapped it in chrome. The New York Daily News claims Matt Damon, Aston Kutcher and Al Gore are all also owners.

Posawatz said the car will also make appearances in an upcoming movie and on a television show, although he wouldn't say which ones.

But most importantly, the company needs to improve its quality. Consumer Reports complained that the $107,850 Karma the magazine purchased was cramped, loud, and filled with overly-complicated controls.

"The Karma lacks the oomph you expect," said Jake Fisher, director of Consumer Reports Auto Test Center. The ratings group said it doesn't compare well with other luxury cars.

Even though AOL Autos didn't get to test-drive the Karma on Monday, just sitting in it showed the car needs more refinement. The driver's door squeaked loudly when opening and closing (something a little WD-40 could have fixed before presenting the car to a hundred or so journalists). And the trunk lid was slightly askew, leaving a big gap between the trunk lid and the side of the car.

Posawatz said he's working on hiring new stable of executives: They hired a new chief financial officer but still need a new head of business in China, a new head of manufacturing and a new quality person.

"We do not deny there have been some missteps along the way, but with the new management, we will fix these issues in time," he said. "I did not want to let this company not have a fighting chance."

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