Troubled sports car maker Fisker Automotive Inc. failed to make a $10-million payment on a federal government loan Monday, tipping the Anaheim company closer to a bankruptcy reorganization or liquidation.
Fisker was scheduled to start to pay down about $192 million it had borrowed under the Energy Department’s Advanced Technology Vehicles Manufacturing Loan Program.
The Energy Department said that on April 11, it “recouped the company’s approximately $21 million reserve account -- funds that came from the company's sales and investors, not our loan -– and will apply those funds to the loan.”
An individual familiar with the process but not authorized to speak about Fisker’s debt said the government essentially swept the car company’s account clean but now must wait to see if the automaker is sold or obtains new investor money before it can try to recoup more of the loan.
“Given the obvious difficulties the company is facing, we are taking strong and appropriate action on behalf of taxpayers,” said Aoife McCarthy, an Energy Department representative. “Using the safeguards we write into our loan agreements, the Department stopped disbursing on the loan in June 2011 after the company fell short of the aggressive milestones that we had established as a condition of the loan. As a result, while our original loan commitment was for $529 million, only $192 million was actually disbursed.”
After taking the $21 million, the government is still owed $171 million.
A Fisker spokesman declined to comment.
Fisker laid off most of its workers this month.
Analysts said the move, following the hiring of a bankruptcy law firm last month, probably signals the death of the Anaheim company, which was founded by auto designer Henrik Fisker in 2007 with great hopes of selling highly styled hybrid sports cars and sedans.
Fisker has been working for months to raise $500 million so it could restart production of the Karma, its only model, which was built in Finland. Fisker stopped making the $110,000 plug-in hybrid last year after A123 Systems Inc., the maker of its lithium-ion battery, filed for bankruptcy.
Fisker has sold just 2,000 of its Karma hybrid sports cars and hasn't assembled a vehicle in about nine months.
The Karma is a plug-in hybrid that can run on electricity and gasoline. A pair of 150,000-watt electric motors power the rear wheels. Those motors get their energy from the large 180-kilowatt lithium-ion battery, which can power the car on electric-only power for 30 to 50 miles, depending on how the Karma is driven.
After the batteries are depleted, a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine, sourced from General Motors, kicks in to recharge them.
The sports car was designed by Henrik Fisker, who had worked on other high-end cars, including the Aston Martin DB9 and V-8 Vantage and the BMW Z8. The four-door Karma cut a dramatic silhouette on the road, with sweeping lines flowing around massive 22-inch wheels, a long hood and a cramped cabin but has been hampered by reliability problems and several recalls.