Plug-in Fisker Karma car is stylishly environmental

Karma's 2.0-liter Ecotec gasoline engine comes from GM. The batteries will come from EnerDel of Indianapolis. The car will be assembled by contract auto builder Valmet Automotive in Finland. Much of the powertrain integration is being provided by Quantum Technologies of Irvine, Calif. The enterprise is being overseen by Fisker's 50 employees from its headquarters, also in Irvine.

The Monterey cruise marked a big occasion for the start-up. "This is the first time we drove it in the street," said Henrik Fisker, once head of design at Aston Martin. "We're really showing (that) the technology works (and) is ready for the streets."

Some electric-car experts aren't bothered by Fisker's low-key approach. Having shown the Karma at the big Detroit auto show in January and now having shown that it can tool around a racetrack, Fisker is sticking to the playbook of most automakers, says Ron Cogan, editor of the Green Car Journal.

"If we don't hear much from Fisker, it's because he's not generating artificial things to say," Cogan says. "He has a great design, has surrounded himself with professionals. It appears he is doing everything right."

Fisker Automotive was founded a couple of years ago with seed money from two Silicon Valley venture-capital firms, Kleiner Perkins and Palo Alto Investors. It since has gone through three rounds to raise more, with total capital of about $100 million as of about six months ago, the last time the figure was disclosed, the company says.

Still, that's not going to be enough to retool an auto plant in the U.S. to expand the line with its plug-in mass-market sedan, Fisker says. That's why the company seeks a loan from the government's Advanced Technology Vehicles Manufacturing program. Tesla, along with Nissan and Ford Motor, already have received loans totaling more than $8 billion out of $25 billion allotted for the program. Automakers and suppliers have submitted more that 100 applications for the remainder.

Fisker wouldn't disclose the amount his company is seeking, and the Energy Department says the applications are confidential.

But Fisker says granting the loan would be an opportunity to show "America can again take the lead" on automotive technology.

Fisker, he says, will survive without it, but "if we don't get it, we have to wait three years" before the company expects it can raise the money to build the plant for the lower-priced car.

In the meantime, Fisker has plans for two other products that would be built off the upscale Karma's chassis. One is a two-door convertible called the Sunset.

The other isn't being disclosed, spokesman Datz says.

After all, it is a low-key company.

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