By JOSEPH SZCZESNY Of The Oakland Press

A California electric car company expects to move into its new technical center in Pontiac before Christmas.

Officials from Fisker Automotive Inc. of Irvine, Calif., a green, premium car company and a favorite project of former Vice President Al Gore, confirmed last week that the company is moving ahead with plans to open a new Engineering and Development Center on the southeast corner of Pontiac.

The new technical center will house up to 200 engineers and designers who will support the development and production program of Fisker Automotive’s first production car, the Fisker Karma.

The company unveiled the $87,000 car at the North American International Auto Show in January, Fisker representatives said.

Henrik Fisker, a former designer at BMW who organized the company from scratch, has said the firm has contracted General Motors’ Pontiac-based powertrain group to supply the gasoline engine that generates electricity when the driver exceeds the 50 mile electric-only range.

It is also considering the purchase of several additional GM vehicle components for the Karma, Fisker said.

“Given General Motors’ global leadership in the parts and accessories space, the fact that it is already engineering parts for extended range electric vehicles, and its commitment to helping the environment, it was clear that this was the right partner for us,” Fisker said.

Tom Stephens, executive vice president in charge of the GM Powertrain Group, said, “GM sees significant opportunity in working with Fisker Automotive, a visionary company developing products that embody both exciting vehicle design as well as technology friendly to our environment.”

Sylvania Lopez-Navarro, Fisker’s director of marketing, has transferred some employees to Michigan from California, and is beginning to hire local talent.

“The available talent, supplier base and infrastructure in Michigan will help us reach our production goal,” said Fisker Automotive Chief Operating Officer Bernhard Koehler.“While Fisker Automotive will continue to have its headquarters in Irvine, Calif., the new facility will allow us the opportunity to collaborate with our Michigan supplier base and have everyone under one roof,” Koehler said.

Last week, Lopez-Navarro said deliveries of the first Fisker’s cars are scheduled for November 2009 in both North America and Europe.

Fisker has contracted with Finnish company Valmet Automotive to build the vehicle. Valmet already builds the Cayman and Boxster for Porsche, Lopez-Navarro said.

Fisker’s annual production is projected to reach 15,000 vehicles by 2011.

The Karma, which will carry a retail price tag of $87,000, is described as a plug-in hybrid that can travel 50 miles on battery power. The car’s total range is 350 miles and it comes with its proprietary “Q-Drive” powertrain developed by Quantum Technologies of Irvine, Calif.

The Fisker is built around an aluminum space frame and will have the potential for a fuel economy of more than 100 miles per gallon on extended drives. In addition, it will have a top speed of 125 mph and 0-60 acceleration in less than 6 seconds. The Fisker Karma is poised to be the world’s first true luxury plug-in hybrid sports car, Lopez-Navarro said.

The opening of the new technical center in Pontiac comes on the heels of Fisker Automotive’s recent announcement that it prevailed in a lawsuit brought against the company by rival Tesla Motors.

Fisker has backing from Quantum, a leader in state-of-the-art clean propulsion technologies and lithium ion batteries developed by Quantum’s strategic alliance partner.

Another major investor in Fisker is Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, a legendary venture capital firm based in Silicon Valley.

Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers has made a major push into “Greentech” innovation and entrepreneurs including cars that emit less zero greenhouse gases. The firm’s partners include John Doerr — an enormously successful high-tech investor who was instrumental in the creation of companies such as Amazon, Google and Netscape — and Gore.

“Scientists agree the No. 1 trend on the planet is urbanization, as 4 billion people move from rural to urban living in the next 50 years. They all want clean water, clean power and clean transportation. At the same time we face climate crisis. Atmospheric CO2 levels are at an all-time high, with accelerating growth.

“We are addicted to increasingly expensive oil. Scientific breakthroughs in biology and materials technology mean there’s never been a better time to start and grow a great green venture. Greentech could be the largest economic opportunity of the 21st century,” the firm’s Web site said.


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