Always good to know someone. Just ask Fisker Automotive, a California high-end-hybrid-car startup and friend of Al Gore’s. This week, Fisker was on the receiving end of a $529 million dollar loan from the federal government. And what’s some of that taxpayer-provided handout going toward? Building a high-end hybrid sports car in Finland that will list for $89,000. Exactly what the global economy is begging for, no doubt. Your tax dollars hard at work, folks. The WSJ has the story:
WASHINGTON — A tiny car company backed by former Vice President Al Gore has just gotten a $529 million U.S. government loan to help build a hybrid sports car in Finland that will sell for about $89,000.
The award this week to California startup Fisker Automotive Inc. follows a $465 million government loan to Tesla Motors Inc., purveyors of a $109,000 British-built electric Roadster. Tesla, like Fisker, is a California startup focusing on high-end hybrids, with a number of celebrity endorsements that is backed by investors that have contributed to Democratic campaigns.
The awards to Fisker and Tesla have prompted concern from companies that have had their bids for loans rejected, and criticism from groups that question why vehicles aimed at the wealthiest customers are getting loans subsidized by taxpayers.
Matt Rogers, who oversees the department’s loan programs as a senior adviser to Energy Secretary Steven Chu, said Fisker was awarded the loan after a “detailed technical review” that concluded the company could eventually deliver a highly fuel-efficient hybrid car to a mass audience. Fisker said most of its DOE loan will be used to finance U.S. production of a $40,000 family sedan that has yet to be designed.
“It’s the ability to drive significant change in fuel economy across a large market segment” that swayed the department to approve the Fisker loan, Mr. Rogers said. “We got quite excited.”
Henrik Fisker, who designed cars for BMW, Aston Martin and Tesla before starting his Fisker Automotive in 2007, said his goal is to build the first plug-in electric hybrids that won’t sacrifice the luxury, performance and looks of traditional gas-powered luxury cars.
The Karma will target an exclusive audience — Gore was one of the first to sign up for one. Mr. Fisker says all new technology starts out being expensive. He pointed to flat-screen televisions that once started at $25,000 but are now affordable to the mass market.
The four-door Karma, powered by a lithium-ion battery, will be able to run solely on electric power for 50 miles, and will achieve an average fuel economy of 100 mpg over the span of a year, the company says. Production is scheduled to start in December, with about 15,000 vehicles a year expected to hit the U.S. market starting next June.
Many of the 1,500 people who have made deposits on the Karma are former BMW and Mercedes owners who want an environmentally friendly car without sacrificing luxury, Mr. Fisker said.
He said he pitched the Karma to Mr. Gore at an event hosted by KPCB last year, and that the former vice president almost immediately submitted a down payment for the car.
Kalee Kreider, a spokeswoman for Mr. Gore, confirmed that the former vice president backs Fisker and purchased a Karma. “He believes that a global shift of the automobile fleet toward electric vehicles, accompanying a shift toward renewable-energy generation, represents an important part of a sensible strategy for solving the climate crisis,” she said in a statement.
Fisker’s top investors include Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, a veteran Silicon Valley venture-capital firm of which Gore is a partner. Employees of KPCB have donated more than $2.2 million to political campaigns, mostly for Democrats, including President Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonpartisan group that tracks campaign contributions.
Officials at Kleiner Perkins didn’t return requests for comment.
Asked whether Mr. Gore had any influence on Fisker’s application, the DOE’s Rogers said, “None at all.”