Fisker & Nissan May Collaborate On An Electric Pickup Truck

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Henrik Fisker has had a passion for designing automobiles since he graduated from the Art Center College of Design in Vevey, Switzerland, in 1989. Later that year, he became a designer for BMW before moving to Ford and Aston Martin in 2001. In 2005, he created a new carrozzeria for high-end automobiles before joining Tesla in 2007, where he was involved in designing the Model S.

Later in 2007, he formed Fisker Automotive, which eventually produced the Fisker Karma, a plug-in hybrid sports sedan. The company received a $528 million loan guarantee by the United States Department of Energy as part of the Advanced Technology Vehicles Manufacturing Loan Program intended to encourage the domestic manufacture of electric cars. The funds were to be used to develop the Karma, as well as an affordable family-size plug-in hybrid car.

The loan facility was frozen at $192 million in February 2012 after the DOE claimed that Fisker missed its milestones. According to the DOE, the government recouped a total of approximately $53 million months before assets of Fisker Automotive were sold to China’s Wanxiang for $149.2 million. The New York Times described the company as the “Solyndra of the electric car industry” and a “debacle.”

Undeterred, Fisker created Fisker, Inc in 2016. That company is now selling its first car, the Fisker Ocean electric SUV. While there are plenty of orders, manufacturing has been an issue. Last week, the company said current financial resources were “insufficient” to cover the next 12 months and that it is laying off 15% of its workforce. It also said it might be forced to cut production, decrease investments, scale back operations, and slash more jobs unless additional financing can be found.

Fisker Turns To An Established Automaker

According to Car and Driver, Henrik Fisker announced during an earnings call last week that the company is negotiating with an unnamed “large automaker” to generate a strategic partnership. Until that partnership is in place, he said the company is pausing all plans for future products including the Pear SUV, the Alaska pickup truck, and the Ronin convertible. “We are not planning to start external expenditure on our next projects until we have a strategic OEM partnership in place,” he said.

The term sheet is ready and the deal is going through due diligence, one of the sources said. Another claimed the deal could close this month. Terms being discussed include Nissan investing more than $400 million in the Fisker truck platform and building the Fisker Alaska pickup at one of its US assembly plants beginning in 2026. Nissan would also build its own electric pickup on the same platform, the source said. Nissan manufactures vehicles at factories located in Mississippi and Tennessee.

Nissan Has Its Own Issues

Nissan was an EV pioneer with its battery electric LEAF hatchback in 2010 but has struggled since then in the face of competition from a phalanx of new competitors from Tesla to Volkswagen. A deal with Fisker would help it move into the growing electric pickup market, Reuters says, although that market appears to be shrinking rather than growing.

Ford is scaling back production of the F-150 Lightning while GM and Ram are delaying the introduction of their own battery electric pickup trucks. There is speculation about midsize electric pickups coming from BYD, Canoo, and Volkswagen, although whether BYD would be allowed to sell vehicles in the US or even wants to is a matter of intense discussion at the moment.

The Alliance Strikes Back

Once upon a time, Nissan and Renault were bound together in an alliance, but the relationship deteriorated after Nissan had Carlos Ghosn, the CEO of the the so-called alliance, imprisoned in Japan. Locking up one’s spouse is hardly a recipe for a happy marriage. Since then, Nissan and Renault have been in more of an open relationship, with both able to consort with whomever they choose. The talks between Fisker and Nissan are coming in the wake of that new “rebalanced” relationship.

The more limited alliance removes certain restrictions and has opened the door for Nissan to develop growth plans in areas such as EVs and software independent of Renault, said one of the sources who is familiar with Nissan’s thinking, before adding that Nissan is pursuing “many, many opportunities.” That’s usually what people say when they have no prospects and are at their wit’s end. Fisker also said Thursday it was in talks with a debt holder about a potential investment. Fisker said it aims to deliver between 20,000 and 22,000 Ocean vehicles in 2024.

A Life Line For Fisker

For Fisker, the deal might be the lifeline it needs to survive at a time when aggressive price cuts globally by EV leaders Tesla and BYD are pressuring the industry, especially for startups like Fisker. The company has struggled to sell its flagship Ocean electric SUV after high interest rates led to a slowdown in demand.

Fisker CEO Henrik Fisker previously told Reuters that the company was in talks with five automakers about a partnership to secure additional production capacity for its vehicles. On Thursday, he said talks had narrowed to one automaker and a deal would include joint development of one or more EV platforms, and North America manufacturing. Now is seems that one automaker is Nissan.

Fisker unveiled the Alaska pickup truck last year with a price tag of just over $45,000 and said it was slated for production early next year. The Alaska platform is an extended version of the one that underpins the Ocean. It and any related vehicle from Nissan would compete in a segment that includes the Ford F-150 Lightning, GM’s Chevrolet Silverado electric truck, Rivian’s R1T and Tesla’s Cybertruck, Reuters says, although the Alaska appears to be about 2/3 the size of the Cybertruck.

The Takeaway

Henrik Fisker gets an A for perseverance. He has been promoting himself and his reputation as an automotive designer for nearly 35 years. His refusal to accept defeat despite numerous setbacks is laudable. Will Nissan finally pull his chestnuts out of the fire? If there is a lesson to be learned here it is that designing cars is easy. Manufacturing cars is hard. Probably what we are witnessing here is two companies struggling to stay afloat in tricky crosscurrents. There is no guarantee either one of the will survive.

The car business today is very much like it was over one hundred years ago when every bicycle mechanic, wagon maker, and blacksmith decided to make automobiles. Some succeeded but many fell by the wayside or were gobbled up by larger companies. The question here really is whether if Nissan and Fisker both disappeared tomorrow, would anyone notice?

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