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Fisker Automotive founder quits

by Lou Whiteman  |  Published March 13, 2013 at 2:57 PM
The founder and executive chairman of Fisker Automotive Inc. broke off ties with the struggling electric car startup on Wednesday, March 13, citing disagreements with management over strategy.

Henrik Fisker announced his resignation from the Anaheim, Calif.-based company in an e-mail, elaborating to Automotive News that he made the decision after "several major disagreements" with executives "on the business strategy." Fisker, a long-time automotive exec who once led Ford Motor Co.'s London design center, did not elaborate further.

The resignation comes at a difficult time for Fisker Automotive, which was founded in 2007 and has raised more than $1.2 billion in debt and venture financing from investors including Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, New Enterprise Associates and Palo Alto Investors as well as high-net-worth individuals.

But Fisker Automotive last year lost access to part of a $529 million U.S. government loan that was to be used to fund production of its $50,000 Atlantic sedan due to the company's failure to meet production and sales milestones. The company hit another speed bump in October when battery supplier A123 Systems Inc. filed for bankruptcy.

Fisker Automotive's troubles, combined with the government loan it received, has made the company a political lightning rod, with Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, last month saying the automaker "looks like another example of taxpayer dollars going to a failed experiment."

Fisker Automotive in December retained Evercore Partners Inc. to consider options, and last month reports surfaced that the company was in talks with Chinese automakers including Dongfeng Motor Corp. and Geely Automobile Holdings Ltd. about potential capital infusions. If a deal materializes, Fisker Automotive would follow in the footsteps of A123, which last month was sold to an affiliate of China's Wanxiang Group Corp.

An automotive restructuring source said the departure of Henrik Fisker could make it easier for the automaker to make difficult choices in the near future, noting that it is not uncommon for a founder to step away as a business matures. "This is part of the transformation process," the source said.

Fisker Automotive in a statement thanked its founder for his contributions, and said that "the company has a strong and experienced management team and its strategy has not changed." The automaker added that the departure would not affect the company's search for new financing.

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Tags: A123 Systems Inc. | Chuck Grassley | Dongfeng Motor Corp. | Evercore Partners Inc. | Fisker Automotive Inc. | Ford Motor Co. | Geely Automobile Holdings Ltd. | Henrik Fisker | Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers | New Enterprise Associates | Palo Alto Investors | Wanxiang Group Corp.

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Lou Whiteman

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