Fisker Takes Steps on Former GM Plant, Funding, Sunset Model

For plug-in vehicle startups, hitting a goal of mass producing a mainstream electric vehicle requires a long series of small steps over several years, from finding funding, to siting plants, to designing and testing of the cars. Fisker Automotive, a venture capital-backed startup developing plug-in hybrid vehicles, has been publicly toiling away toward several of these milestones since winning a conditional loan commitment from the Department of Energy last fall. Here’s the latest: On Monday night CEO Henrik Fisker made a presentation before a crowd in Wilmington, Delaware, to announce that the company has started conducting environmental assessments of a former General Motors (s GM) plant in the area, where the startup plans to build its mid-range plug-in sedan called Project Nina (see video clip, taken by the Delaware Business Ledger).

An environmental review — often a lengthy process for this type of project — has to be completed for the DOE to issue the loan. Last month, Fisker told VentureWire he expected to close its DOE loan by mid-March, and we’ve contacted the company this morning to find out whether it’s still on track for that timeline.

Fisker announced back in October that it planned to buy the former General Motors assembly plant for $18 million, drawing funds from a $528.7 million conditional loan it received from the Department of Energy. Fisker has said it intends to produce its $47,400 plug-in hybrid vehicle Project Nina starting in 2012, and plans to invest $175 million over the next three years retooling the facility. By 2014, Fisker has said it plans to have the plant cranking out 75,000-100,000 vehicles per year.

?Fisker’s inaugural plug-in hybrid model, the $87,900 Fisker Karma, is scheduled to launch this summer in the U.S. and Europe — with Finland’s Valmet Automotive responsible for assembly. Fisker board member and director of retail development Vic Doolan tells Reuters on the sidelines of the Geneva Auto Show last week that the Karma “is expected to be in “serious” production in 2011.”

Fisker announced in January that it has raised $115 million in private equity funding from battery maker A123Systems, Kleiner Perkins Caulfield Byers, Ace Investments, and according to an SEC filing the company plans to raise $150 million in total private capital. CEO Henrik Fisker told Reuters on the sidelines of the Geneva Auto Show last week that the company expects to raise one more round of private equity before the end of the year, and that will mean Fisker is fully funded for both its Karma and Nina models. VentureWire reports this morning that Fisker has secured another $25 million of that $150 million.

Oh, but wait, the next-generation Karma is in the works, too, for the former GM plant in Wilmington, and local Delaware paper The News Journal reports that it will be called the Karma Sunset.