At the time, Fisker was already more than a year behind rolling out its $97,000 luxury vehicle bankrolled in part with DOE money. The ABC News investigation, conducted with the Center for Public Integrity, came in the wake of the administration's failed $535 million investment in Solyndra. That company's collapse, bankruptcy and raid by FBI agents generated further interest in how the Energy Department doles out billions in highly sought after green energy seed money.
Both Fisker and Obama administration officials raced to defend Fisker, but at the same time acknowledged the inherent risk involved in such start-ups. The Energy Department said it had carefully vetted loan recipients to minimize taxpayer risk.
Then in May 2012, after providing nearly $200 million in loans, the Energy Department announced it had frozen payments to Fisker, saying it hired a restructuring advisor to study the terms of the agreement and assess the performance of the company.
While Fisker did begin to ship Karmas to American customers and raise more than $1 billion in private financing, the company continued to be dogged by troubles.
The company faced unflattering reviews from some auto critics, questions about the risk of battery fires, and delays in the release of more affordable models utilizing the same hybrid-electric technology that went into the high end sports sedan. Ormisher told ABC News that less-pricey model – called the Fisker Atlantic – is 90 percent of the way through design and engineering phases, but there is not yet a completed prototype.
In a 2011 interview with ABC News, Henrik Fisker, the renowned Danish auto designer who founded the company, issued a promise to U.S. taxpayers that they had no reason to worry about the more than $500 million in federal funds the government was getting set to bet on the company. "No, I don't think they need to worry about it," Fisker said. When asked if Fisker might be the next Solyndra, he said, "Absolutely not."
When Henrik Fisker resigned from the company, the auto maker released a statement saying, in essence, that nothing had changed: "Mr. Fisker's departure is not expected to impact the company's pursuit of strategic partnerships and financing to support Fisker Automotive's continued progress as a pioneer of low-emission hybrid electric powertrain technology."
But the outlook has only appeared to get worse.
In December, the Wall Street Journal reported that Fisker board members had discussed the prospect of filing for bankruptcy, citing unnamed sources. Company executives responded by saying they were seeking larger partners for the small automaker.
For weeks following, there were widespread reports of a possible deal involving Chinese automakers. But a major Chinese manufacturer said those talks had fallen through. Last week came word in a report by Reuters that Fisker Automotive had begun consulting with bankruptcy lawyers. That news came with less than a month before Fisker must make a significant payment on its U.S. Energy Department loan, which comes due April 22.
Ormisher told ABC News the company is not prepared to publicly discuss the chances it could file for bankruptcy because it remains in talks with unnamed suitors to forge an automotive partnership that would enable the Fisker brand to continue. "That's really the company's focus," he said.