Chinese auto parts manufacturing giant Wanxiang Group has just won a bid for its very own electric vehicle company, in the form of bankrupt Fisker Automotive.
According to news reports, Wanxiang’s bid to buy Fisker’s remaining assets for $149.2 million was approved by a Delaware bankruptcy judge on Tuesday, beating out a rival bid from Hybrid Technology, a group formed by Hong Kong billionaire and Fisker investor Richard Li.
Hybrid had offered $30 million in cash and $25 million in canceled debt to buy Fisker out of bankruptcy late last year, after paying $25 million to purchase Fisker’s defaulted $192 million loan obligation to the Department of Energy. But Fisker creditors protested that Hybrid’s bid was too low and potentially illegal, which led to Judge Kevin Gross starting the bidding process that Wanxiang won this week.
Hybrid Technology still owns the outstanding $168 million balance of the $528 million DOE loan that Fisker drew down before DOE cut it off in 2011. Since then, Fisker stopped building its Karma hybrid sports cars in 2012, was pummeled by bad reviews and reports of vehicle fires and recalls, and filed for bankruptcy protection in November.
Wanxiang, which had been reported to be considering a bid for Fisker’s assets last year, will pay about $126 million in cash, $8 million in assumed liabilities and a 20 percent common equity stake for creditors in the startup, according to the Associated Press. That’s far less than the $1.2 billion Fisker raised from investors including VC firms Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers and NEA, as well as now-defunct investment firm Advanced Equities.
Wanxiang also bought lithium-ion battery maker A123 out of bankruptcy in January 2013, and has since been backing A123’s push to recover its business in supplying batteries to automotive customers, as well as for grid-scale storage applications. A123 and Fisker were closely linked -- it was the failure and recall of A123 batteries in Fisker’s Karma hybrid sports cars that caused A123’s stock to plummet and led to its bankruptcy in late 2012.
A123 also received $249 million in DOE financial backing, which spurred congressional protests over its sale to a Chinese company, and led to some A123 divisions doing business with the U.S. military being spun off to a U.S. buyer. It’s possible that Wanxiang’s purchase of Fisker could boost A123’s prospects in the light electric vehicle sector, where it has lost business since its bankruptcy, the Boston Globe reported.
Wanxiang is no stranger to U.S. markets -- its U.S. business unit has about 6,000 workers and $2.5 billion in annual revenue. It has also continued to invest in A123’s U.S. facilities since it took them over last year. As for its plans for Fisker, the Chinese auto parts giant said in court filings that it could restart production of the $100,000-plus Karma in the coming months, and could sell about 1,000 in the United States and 500 in Europe over the next eighteen months, the Chicago Tribune reported.
Less clear is what might happen to the Wilmington, Del. factory where Fisker had planned to build its lower-priced Atlantic hybrid sedan. Fisker’s failure to meet certain performance targets in renovating that former General Motors factory was what caused the DOE to cut off the company's access to its loan in 2011, and Wanxiang hasn’t stated what its plans for the Atlantic may be.