The U.S. government is betting that a startup automaker in California can develop a market for pricey plug-in hybrids.
Fisker Automotive took another step toward production of luxury plug-ins last week when the U.S. Department of Energy said it would lend the company $529 million.
Fisker said it will use most of the money for two projects:
1. Complete development of the Karma, an $87,900 mid-sized plug-in luxury hybrid that goes on sale next year.
2. Development of Project Nina, which will create a new line of smaller hybrids that will sell for around $39,000 after tax credits.
The Karma's turbocharged engine is manufactured by General Motors Co. and is similar to the one that will be used in the Chevrolet Volt, scheduled for launch in late 2010.
"This conditional loan represents a significant step in America's future," Henrik Fisker, the company's CEO, said in a statement. "With it, Fisker Automotive can rapidly develop affordable, clean cars that satisfy our passion for driving and help restore the U.S. as an auto industry leader."
The funds are part of the Energy Department's $25 billion Advanced Technology Vehicles Manufacturing Loan Program, designed to help promote development of energy-efficient, advanced-technology vehicles.
Other companies that have received funds from the program are Ford Motor Co., Tesla Motors and Nissan North America.
Fisker, founded in 2007, has signed 45 dealers and recently hired former Maserati North America CEO Marti Eulberg to lead global sales and marketing.
Among the high-profile dealers signing with Fisker: John Bergstrom in Wisconsin, Kjell Bergh in Minnesota, Tom Price and Mike Sullivan in California, Ron Tonkin in Oregon and Joe Serra in Michigan and California.