Fisker plans exports of EVs; are there enough batteries?

Automotive news reports on Fisker's plans and challenges in producing its hybrid cars.

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Automotive News

DETROIT--Henrik Fisker plans to export more than 50,000 electric vehicles annually from his U.S. plant.

Fisker expects rapid growth in various forms of electrically powered vehicles--but especially for the premium plug-in hybrids he will sell.

To meet that demand, Fisker Automotive plans to use an idled General Motors plant in Wilmington, Del., as an export hub.

Fisker, CEO of Fisker Automotive, said his high-end electric-car company is in final negotiations to buy the plant. He said his company plans to build 100,000 to 150,000 vehicles annually there, with the majority going overseas. "We actually plan to export more cars than we sell here in the U.S.," Fisker told the Automotive News World Congress last week.

In an interview, he said the plant's proximity to shipping was a key factor in the decision to buy it. Fisker plans to build a $45,000 midsize sedan there beginning in 2012.

Battery capacity

But Charles Gassenheimer, CEO of battery maker Ener1 Inc., sees a potential hurdle to rapid growth of electric-vehicle output: lack of battery production capacity.

Even pessimistic projections for EV growth--to 1 to 2 percent of global vehicle production--would require as many lithium ion cells as are built annually today for appliances such as laptop computers, Gassenheimer said. Optimistic projections will require 10 times that capacity. "Demand doesn't appear to be the problem for battery makers," Gassenheimer told the congress. "It's the ability to supply."

To increase cell production capacity, Ener1 plans capital expenditures of $600 million to $800 million, he said. It wants to produce 120,000 EV battery packs annually by 2015. Ener1 has cell plants in Indianapolis and South Korea, making it the only company with the ability to do large-scale production in the United States, Gassenheimer said.

He sits on the board of Norwegian electric-vehicle maker Think. Ener1 last year became the largest investor in Think, which recently announced plans to build cars in Elkhart, Ind.

Ener1 will supply Think with lithium ion batteries through its subsidiary, EnerDel. It also supplies batteries to the Volvo C30 EV and C70 plug-in hybrid.

Fisker said his company can make the $45,000 sedan profitable by simplifying some options usually found on premium cars. For instance, he said, Fisker probably can make do with a 12-position seat rather than a 24- or 30-position seat.

Amid a profusion of electric vehicles at the Detroit auto show, Fisker defended plug-in, range-extended electric vehicles as the most practical form of vehicle electrification because they don't have the range limitation of pure EVs.

'Green status'

Fisker added that his decision to make premium vehicles--beginning with the $87,900 Karma roadster--is also sound.

"I believe that the green car is going to become a status symbol," he said.

Fisker was an automotive designer for 20 years, first with BMW and then with Ford Motor Co. At Ford he was director of the global advanced design studio in Irvine, Calif., and design director at Aston Martin. Among his creations are the BMW Z8 and the Aston Martin DB9 and V8 Vantage.

Starting next year, the Karma will be assembled in Finland by Valmet Automotive Inc. Fisker Automotive, of Irvine, Calif., plans to use some of a $528.7 million loan from the U.S. Department of Energy to prepare for production.

(Source: Automotive News)

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