Fisker Automotive Inc., the Anaheim developer of expensive, sporty plug-in hybrid cars, shook up its management Tuesday, naming an automotive industry veteran to replace co-founder Henrik Fisker as chief executive.
The move comes as Fisker halted work on a new model and laid off workers.
Tom LaSorda, who joined the company as vice chairman and executive advisor to the management team in December, will assume full CEO responsibilities and day-to-day operational management. LaSorda is a former chief executive of Chrysler Group and held executive positions during a 23-year career at General Motors Co.
Henrik Fisker, who co-founded the company in 2007 after working as a designer at BMW and Aston Martin, will focus on building the Fisker brand in global markets and the styling and design of future Fisker models.
"The odds are stacked against Fisker," said Jeremy Anwyl, vice chairman of automotive information company Edmunds.com. "LaSorda is a quality guy, and moving him to their top spot will enhance the company's credibility, but that will only get you so far."
This month, the company said it had stopped work at a former General Motors auto plant in Delaware, where it had been proceeding with plans to build Project Nina, a family-size plug-in hybrid expected to sell for about $50,000.
Fisker laid off 26 workers at the plant and dismissed 40 contract workers at its Anaheim headquarters. That leaves the company with about 600 employees working on automotive development in Anaheim.
The company said it "delayed work at the [Delaware] plant based on ongoing discussions" with the Energy Department "regarding funding for the Project Nina program."
The agency is withholding loans for the Nina project because Fisker missed deadlines at different stages in the process of getting its first vehicle, the Karma sports car, to market. It hit showrooms in December, about three months later than the company had committed to in its loan agreement, and has been hampered by glitches.
"The car doesn't seem to be living up to the hype in terms of performance and fit and finish," Anwyl said. "The car may be an interesting toy for people who have $100k to spend on such a thing, but Fisker will run out of those people quickly."
Fisker said that it still planned to launch the Nina, but that it could face delays.
Fisker has received $193 million of the $529-million loan, and most of that money was spent to develop the Karma. The automaker is renegotiating the terms for the $336-million balance, money that would be earmarked for Nina development.
Fisker is a start-up company working on the development of plug-in hybrid vehicles that can run on just electricity and also on a combination of electric and gasoline power to extend the range of the autos.