Fisker Automotive has set a third quarter of 2010 deadline for bringing its high-end plug-in hybrid Karma sports car to customers.

The Irvine, Calif.-based startup announced the new production target date Thursday at the Los Angeles Auto Show. It's later than the mid-2010 timeframe it announced in July, and a year behind an earlier goal of having the car out by the end of 2009 (see Green Light post).

That would put the $87,900 Karma well behind its rival Telsa Motors in competing for adoption by well-heeled, environmentally conscious drivers. Tesla's $109,000 all-electric Roadster has been on sale since last year, and the San Carlos, Calif.-based company started making its 2010 model in June (see Telsa Posts $1M Profit).

Fisker said Thursday that it has taken 1,500 deposits from would-be Karma buyers.

Both Tesla and Fisker – as well as Nissan and Ford – have received Department of Energy backing to develop plug-in hybrid and electric cars.

In September, Fisker got $528.7 million in DOE loans to help accelerate its production of the Karma, which will be assembled by Valmet Automotive in Finland. The funds will also help it to renovate a Delaware factory to build its cheaper plug-in hybrid, which goes under the name Project Nina (see Fisker Gets $528.7M From Feds for Two Plug-In Hybrids).

The $39,900 Nina is set to be released in 2012. That's later than the 2011 deadline Tesla has set for releasing its $57,000, all-electric Model S sedan (see Green Light post and Chevy Volt: 12 Months to Go).

It also lags behind plans by major automakers to release plug-in hybrid and all-electric vehicles. Nissan wants its electric Leaf to be out next year, and General Motors says its plug-in hybrid Chevy Volt will come out next year as well (see Green Light post and).

Ford Motor Co. also has plans to release an electric Focus sedan in 2011, as well as other plug-in hybrid and electric vehicles over the coming years (see Under the Hood With Ford's Electric Cars).

How Fisker and Tesla will fare in competition with automotive giants in landing customers for more affordable electric and plug-in hybrid cars remains to be seen. GM Vice Chairman Bob Lutz told Reuters at the L.A. Auto Show that the price of such vehicles needs to come down before they'll see widespread adoption.

Photo of the Karma via Fisker.