Tony Posawatz aims to take struggling start-up to “next level.”
by Paul A. Eisenstein on Aug.14, 2012
Tony Posawatz led development efforts for the Chevrolet Volt.
The man who helped turn a radical idea into the Chevrolet Volt will become the new chief executive of Fisker Automotive, the struggling California start-up hoping to make a go out of selling its own plug-in hybrid vehicles.
Tony Posawatz’s move to Fisker Automotive comes barely a month after he retired as chief of General Motors’ electric vehicle program. He replaces Tom LaSorda, the one-time Chrysler chief executive, who had spent less than a year as Fisker’s CEO.
In the Know!
The 52-year-old Posawatz brings to Fisker plenty of know-how and a solid reputation after 25 years with GM. But he lands at a company that is struggling to come up with the cash it needs to launch its second and perhaps most critical product line, the Atlantic. Complicating matters, Fisker is facing mounting concerns after a second of its original Karma models unexpectedly caught fire last week.
(For more on the latest fire, Click Here.)
“What I’ve seen,” said Posawatz, during a media conference call, “truly excites me. “ Fisker’s plug-in hybrid technology, he declared, is “the true answer to the propulsion technology of the future.”
Fisker Automotive was founded by former Aston Martin designer Henrik Fisker and has focused exclusively on the development of plug-in hybrid systems that pair an electric propulsion set with a more traditional gasoline driveline. Though more complex and expensive, the approach allows the vehicle to operate on batteries alone for up to 32 miles, according to its EPA rating; then the gasoline engine kicks in permitting the vehicle to drive as long as there’s fuel in the tank.
(Click Here for a review of the Fisker Karma.)
While praised for its sleek styling, however, the Karma has generated mixed reviews due to its heft and performance limits. The maker has been struggling to push on to its next program, the smaller, lighter and – Fisker claims – more advanced Atlantic, which was unveiled at the New York Auto Show last April.
(Take a first look at the Fisker Atlantic. Click Here.)
But the project has been set back by at least a year due to the government’s decision to tie up a low-interest loan program needed to put the Atlantic into production. The company has been scrambling to raise the needed funds through the private equity market.
While the Volt and the various Fisker products play in different market segments it shouldn’t be a major reach for Posawatz to get the feel for his new job. At GM he headed the development of not only the Chevrolet Volt but also was working on the next generation of electric vehicles for the Detroit maker. That included a more upscale version of the Volt that will be sold through the Cadillac division as well as a pure battery-electric version of the Chevy Spark minicar.
But, for the near-term, Posawatz’s initial duties will be to help steer Fisker through a potential public relations minefield tripped off by a pair of unexplained fires involving two Karma plug-ins. The maker has dispatched “independent investigators” to see why one of the vehicles unexpectedly caught fire in a Northern California grocery store’s parking lot last Friday.
“The area of origin for the fire was determined to be outside the engine compartment,” the company said in a statement about the fire. “Evidence revealed thus far supports the fact that the ignition source was not the Lithium-ion battery pack, new technology components or unique exhaust routing.”
The blaze was the second involving a Karma this year – though the company has suggested the earlier fire may have been the result of arson or some other issue not caused by the Fisker vehicle.
With Fisker officials picking and choosing questions during the web session, Posawatz did not address the issue of the fires during his debut conference call.
The new CEO succeeds Tom LaSorda, the former Chrysler CEO who had been one of Fisker’s early backers and board members. In February, LaSorda stepped in as chief executive when founder Henrik Fisker relinquished that title. The Danish designer remains the automaker’s chairman. LaSorda, meanwhile, will remain an “advisor,” but will not be an active member of Fisker Automotive management.
In other developments, Fisker also announced today Joe Chao will serve as the new CEO of operations in China and other parts of Asia. He has 30 years of industry experience with GM, Mercedes-Benz and Chrysler, and most recently served as CEO of Beijing Benz Ltd.