Will A Chinese-Owned Fisker Rival Tesla Motors in US Market?

With Hong Kong businessman Richard Li on the verge of taking control of Fisker Automobiles, will it become the beachhead into the US market for other Chinese carmakers?

Published: 11-Jan-2014

TESLA, an American electric-car manufacturer, is the darling of investors and the most visible success in a business more notable for its failures. The praise it has attracted is encouraging Chinese firms to try to enter the American market. A Hong Kong company and a mainland firm are battling for control of Fisker, a failed maker of hybrid-electric cars based in California; a court hearing due on January 10th will consider creditors’ calls for an open auction. And BYD, another Chinese mainland firm, said this week it would start selling its own electric cars in America next year.

In 2009, when America’s Department of Energy (DOE) agreed to give Fisker a big “green energy” loan to start production of its sleek Karma sports car, it looked like posing a serious threat to Tesla. But Fisker was brought down by quality problems, poor management and the financial difficulties of A123, its battery supplier (although it too enjoyed the taxpayers’ largesse). Production of the Karma ceased in late 2012 and, last November, Fisker followed A123 into bankruptcy. Hybrid Tech Holdings, controlled by Richard Li—a son of Li Ka-shing, Hong Kong’s richest tycoon—bought the DOE’s loan to Fisker at a big discount and is now seeking to use its influence as a creditor to win control of the collapsed firm.

Fisker’s managers support Mr Li’s bid. But many of the company’s unsecured creditors prefer the rival takeover proposal, from Wanxiang, a giant Chinese maker of car parts which aspires to go big into electric cars. It has already bought A123 and plans to revive production of the Karma, assembling it in America rather than, as before, in Finland.

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