Fisker Automotive may be going the way of Solyndra

Posted by PITHOCRATES - April 28th, 2013

Week in Review

The Obama administration bet big on Fisker.  Sure that they could make the green car the Obama administration envisioned.  An upscale sportier version of Government Motors’ (GM) Chevrolet Volt.  Which isn’t selling well.  But it is selling better than the Fisker Karma.  But that isn’t saying much (see Floundering Fisker faces grilling over U.S. government loan by Deepa Seetharaman and Ayesha Rascoe posted 4/24/2013 on Reuters).

Fisker Automotive Inc, which has not built a vehicle since July, has the potential to succeed and repay nearly $200 million in government loans if the “green” car maker is able to find the right “financial and strategic resources,” according to former CEO Henrik Fisker.

Problems with the parts suppliers, delays in regulatory approval and recalls of its flagship Karma plug-in hybrid sports car were among the issues that dogged the automaker over the last few years, Fisker plans to tell lawmakers during a congressional committee hearing later on Wednesday…

The hearing comes as the automaker verges on collapse. Among the key questions is whether Fisker’s prospects were strong enough at the start to warrant the DOE’s backing, which helped trigger a flood of private financing for Fisker.

Fisker’s failure to make a payment on the DOE loan on Monday is the latest of its troubles. In recent weeks, Fisker has fired 75 percent of its workforce and hired bankruptcy advisers…

The DOE’s early public support helped open doors for Fisker, which sells the $100,000-plus Karma plug-in hybrid sports car. Fisker has raised $1.2 billion in private funds to date, according to SEC filings…

Fisker never received the full $529 million loan. It tapped $192 million before the DOE quietly decided to freeze Fisker’s credit line in June 2011 when it became clear that Fisker would not meet performance milestones as part of the loan agreement…

In the confidential “information statement” sent to shareholders in December 2011 and obtained by Reuters, Fisker said it “will not meet certain financial covenants and project milestones” required in the DOE agreement, including earnings, net worth and certain financial ratio targets.

Fisker’s troubles come after a string of green technology flops, including last year’s bankruptcy of Fisker’s lithium-ion battery supplier, A123 Systems.

Forecasts in 2009 for the sale of hybrid and electric vehicles far outstripped subsequent demand.

Forecasts outstripped subsequent demand?  Hmmm.  Let’s see if we can figure out why demand is weak for the Fisker Karma plug-in hybrid sports car.

The Fisker Karma is a luxury sports sedan.  A 4-door.  With room for 4.  Because of the large battery that runs down the middle of the car providing room only for 4 bucket seats.  Making this a subcompact.  And what range does that massive battery give you?  About 32 miles.  After that you’re running on gasoline.  Which can take you to a top speed of 125 mph.  And can go from 0 to 60 mph in 6.3 seconds.  This is what you get for $100,000-plus.

Now compare that with a Chevrolet Corvette.  A 2-door, 2-seat sports car.  With a top speed of 190 mph.  And can go from 0 to 60 mph in 4.2 seconds.  So if you’re going through a mid-life crisis and want something to impress the ladies with you can get all of this for about $50,000.  And they can’t understand why actual demand outstripped their forecasts.  Here’s a guess.  You can get a lot more car for less elsewhere.  If driving electric is more important you’ll probably buy one of the tinier hybrids and save yourself about $50,000.  If speed and power is more important to you you’ll probably buy something like a Chevrolet Corvette.  And save yourself about $50,000.

This is the problem with electric cars.  You get so little car for what you have to pay that only the most wealthy and diehard environmentalists are going to shell out that kind of money.  And there just aren’t a lot of those out there.  Which is why private investors didn’t invest.  Until, that, is, the federal government invested.

Once the government chose to subsidize Fisker then private investors found their courage to invest, too.  Figuring that with the government assuming some of the risk their investment was now less risky.  As they probably saw the future where a bunch of rich Hollywood types would have a Fisker in the garage.  To take out on special occasions.  To show that they cared.  But there were so many problems bringing this car to market that even the government bailed on it.  And for them to do that you know that there must be problems at Fisker.  Making these private investors rue the day they followed the government into this company.  Instead of staying out of it based on their original analysis.

Any company that has something to sell that the people want doesn’t need government money.  For if private investors see a good thing they will invest.  But when they don’t the government does.  Because no wise investor will.

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The Amount of Loss per Chevy Volt Sold is in Dispute but what is Not Disputed is that Each Volt Sold Loses Money

Posted by PITHOCRATES - September 16th, 2012

Week in Review

Some number crunching shows the Chevy Volt to be a disaster.  A Reuters’ article (see below) puts the loss per Volt sold as high as $49,000.  Which GM disputes.  Even former GM vice chairman Bob Lutz wrote an article in Forbes disputing this.  Criticizing the authors of the article for dividing the total Chevy Volt investment by the number of Volts sold to date.  And not the projected sales over the 5 year life of the vehicle.  But if you crunch the numbers over this 5 year period they still aren’t good.  And show a loss that may never be recovered (see Insight: GM’s Volt: The ugly math of low sales, high costs by Bernie Woodall and Paul Lienert and Ben Klayman posted 9/10/2012 on Reuters).

Nearly two years after the introduction of the path-breaking plug-in hybrid, GM is still losing as much as $49,000 on each Volt it builds, according to estimates provided to Reuters by industry analysts and manufacturing experts. GM on Monday issued a statement disputing the estimates…

GM’s basic problem is that “the Volt is over-engineered and over-priced,” said Dennis Virag, president of the Michigan-based Automotive Consulting Group…

GM’s quandary is how to increase sales volume so that it can spread its estimated $1.2-billion investment in the Volt over more vehicles while reducing manufacturing and component costs – which will be difficult to bring down until sales increase…

The lack of interest in the car has prevented GM from coming close to its early, optimistic sales projections. Discounted leases as low as $199 a month helped propel Volt sales in August to 2,831, pushing year-to-date sales to 13,500, well below the 40,000 cars that GM originally had hoped to sell in 2012.

Out in the trenches, even the cheap leases haven’t always been effective…

It currently costs GM “at least” $75,000 to build the Volt, including development costs, Munro said. That’s nearly twice the base price of the Volt before a $7,500 federal tax credit provided as part of President Barack Obama’s green energy policy…

The car entered production in the fall of 2010 as the first U.S. gasoline-electric hybrid that could be recharged by plugging the car into any electrical outlet. The Obama administration, which engineered a $50-billion taxpayer rescue of GM from bankruptcy in 2009 and has provided more than $5 billion in subsidies for green-car development, praised the Volt as an example of the country’s commitment to building more fuel-efficient cars…

Before GM resorted to discounting Volt leases, sales were averaging just over 1,500 cars a month. A huge part of that reason was consumer push back over the price, according to Virag of Automotive Consulting.

GM forecasted selling 40,000 cars per year over 5 years.  Before the discounting leases they were selling only 1,500 per month.  At that pace that comes to 18,000 cars per year over 5 years.  If you divide the $1.2 billion by 200,000 (40,000 X 5) cars sold that comes to a projected investment recovery of $6,000 per car sold.  If you divide the $1.2 billion by 90,000 (18,000 X 5) cars sold that comes to a projected investment recovery of $13,333 per car sold.  So the projected loss on their investment based on the current pace of sales over 5 years is $7,333 per Volt sold.  Or a profit margin of NEGATIVE 18.3%.  And that’s without adding any production losses.  The longer it takes to meet sales projections the greater the losses climb.  And the less likely they will ever make money on the Volt.  Even with all the subsidies and tax credits.

The big question is what do the taxpayers get for this massive investment into a car that can’t sell?  It’ll help GM advance technology for the next generation of hybrid car?  But isn’t that something car companies are supposed to be doing anyway?  And should a company that is coming out of bankruptcy protection be experimenting in exotic new technology instead of focusing on selling what people are buying to return to profitability?  So they can raise their stock price so the government can sell their shares of GM stock without a loss to repay the American taxpayer?  GM, and the American taxpayer, would be better off if GM focused on selling their more profitable trucks and SUVs until they repay their taxpayer debt.  Then once they were on more steady financial ground they could explore the exotic technologies.

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The Chevy Volt is too Expensive unless you want to Drive in the Carpool Lane Alone

Posted by PITHOCRATES - September 9th, 2012

Week in Review

The government rarely runs anything well.  Because few politicians have any business experience.  Which explains why the more they intervene into the private sector economy the more the economy suffers.  Case in point GM.  GM was losing money because they couldn’t sell cars at a high enough price to pay their bills.  Especially their retiree pension and health care costs.  Instead of allowing GM to go through the bankruptcy process to fix their problems so they could sell cars at prices that would pay their bills the government bailed out the UAW.  And did not fix their underlying problem.  What caused all of their problems in the first place.  High labor and retiree costs.  So it’s no surprise that GM did not emerge leaner and meaner from bankruptcy.  Like the airlines typically do.  Instead they left the problems in place.  And told GM to build the Chevy Volt (see The Chevy Volt: Dead or alive? by Brooke Crothers posted 9/3/2012 on CNET News).

Depending on who you believe, the Volt is either alive and kickin’ or in its death throes.

The most recent news about GM’s plug-in hybrid gives fodder to both sides. On the upside, GM said on Wednesday that it already has sold more than 2,500 Volts this month. That would be a monthly record, bringing the global total this year to about 13,000, according to reports.

But critics quickly jumped on another piece of news: GM’s suspension of Volt production for four weeks.

Dying or not this is not good news for the Volt.  Very few are buying these cars.  And those who do are not buying them because they are great cars.  They’re buying them to make a statement.  Or for some other reason.  And that is the problem for the Volt.  When a vehicle is selling well you hear the rank and file complaining about all of the overtime they have to work.  To keep up with demand.  While demanding their factories add another shift.  But when you’re only selling 13,000 a year (just over 1,000 a month) you can shut down for four weeks.  And no one will even notice.

But the completely electric Nissan Leaf has not fared well either. It has a goal of 20,000 units this year, which the Detroit News says is increasingly unlikely.

Another problem GM faces is competition. It’s no longer the only plug-in hybrid on the block. Ford has its C-Max Energi plug-in hybrid ($32,950) and Toyota is now selling a Prius plug-in hybrid ($32,000)…

GM says one in three Volts are now sold in California. And there are reasons for an uptick in Golden State sales. The Volt earlier this year finally qualified for the California provision that allows environmentally friendly cars to use restricted carpool lanes whether they’re carrying passengers or not.

And the Chevy Volt sells for $40,000.  People just aren’t demanding these cars.  Because they’re expensive, small cars.  And the people that are buying the most Volts are in California.  Just so they can drive in the carpool lanes.  Where commuters will pay almost any price to avoid that awful Californian gridlock.  Especially if you don’t have to drag along another body with you.

The federal government poured a lot of money into the Chevy Volt when they bailed out the UAW pension fund (aka the auto bailout).  This was the car of the future.  Because President Obama said so.  And proclaimed the new GM would sell a million Volts a year.  And GM would use the proceeds from these sales to repay the taxpayers.  Not only have they grossly missed the president’s sales target.  The government interference in the company (by making them build a car that no one demanded) has caused the stock price to fall.  While the government still owns a substantial amount of shares.  Pushing any repayment of the taxpayers’ money further out in the future.  If there is any repayment at all.

It just may not be time for the plug-in hybrid.  Based on these sales numbers.  So it probably wasn’t wise to make it such a big part of GM’s turnaround plan.  Or to pour so much taxpayer money into it.  Worse, GM is not positioned any better to compete in the market place.  Which is why their plug-in hybrid is the most costly one in the market place.  And will be for the foreseeable future.  Until they have a true bankruptcy reorganization.

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