VC-Backed Fisker Automotive Seeking Battery Deal

(Reuters) – Fisker Automotive, a specialty carmaker backed by venture capital, will announce a deal to supply batteries for its Karma plug-in hybrid by the end of the month, the company’s founder and chief executive said on Thursday.

EnerDel, an Indiana-based unit of ENER1 (HEV.O), is one of the candidates to supply lithium-ion batteries for the vehicles, Henrik Fisker said on the sidelines of the Los Angeles auto show.

“We have not announced our battery company. EnerDel is one of the companies we are looking at,” Fisker told Reuters. “We will be announcing our battery supplier before the end of this year.”

The privately held automaker, which counts Silicon Valley-based Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers as an investor, will deliver its first Karma models in September 2010.

Lithium-ion batteries have long been used in consumer electronics like cell phones and laptop computers.

Now, automakers from start-ups like Fisker to industry giants like General Motors Co [GM.UL] and Nissan Motor Co (7201.T) are readying electric vehicles powered by packs built up from hundreds or thousands of lithium-ion cells.

The race to supply those batteries, which can cost $10,000 or more, has emerged as a booming market in the making and one where there is no dominant and established vendor.

Industry estimates project annual sales of up to $25 billion in the next-generation auto batteries by 2015, up from almost none now.

The Fisker Karma, which is designed to travel 50 miles on a single charge and accelerate to one mile per minute in six seconds, will sell for $87,900.

The Karma will be built in Finland by Valmet Automotive.


Fisker said customers who have already ordered, including former U.S. Vice President Al Gore, would be able to take delivery of vehicles next year.

Other buyers would have to wait until 2011, when the company expects to ramp up production to 15,000 Karma models per year, Fisker said, the first full year of production.

Backed by $528 million in low-cost loans from the U.S. Department of Energy, Irvine, California-based Fisker is also gearing up to launch a smaller plug-in in 2012 it has dubbed “Project Nina.”

The Nina is expected to sell for $47,000 in the United States before a federal tax credit for consumers of $7,500.

“It’s likely that the battery supplier we announce for the Karma will also be for the Nina,” Fisker said.

Fisker has a tentative deal to buy a factory in Wilmington, Delaware formerly run by GM and expects to close that transaction before March, Henrik Fisker said.

The company also has been negotiating with the United Auto Workers union on a contract for the Delaware plant Fisker expects to use to build models for both the U.S. market and for export.

Fisker said he expects to conclude the UAW talks on a new contract before March.

“We expect to get a very competitive contract. We have had very good talks already with the UAW,” Fisker said. “With the right contract, which I am sure we can get, we will have a very good team of workers that are ready to build cars exactly when we move in. We won’t have to train people to build cars.”

(Reporting by Kevin Krolicki; Editing by Phil Berlowitz)

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