LOS ANGELES -- Just to be clear, Henrik Fisker says his fledging auto company is not circling the drain.
Fisker Automotive recently missed vehicle development and sales milestones needed to obtain another round of Department of Energy funding -- resulting in layoffs and speculation that the luxury-hybrid startup is failing.
But in an interview, Henrik Fisker, the company's co-founder and CEO, said he knew months ago that the deadlines would be missed. He said the automaker has been looking for other forms of financing ever since and may never use another penny of DOE money.
He said the current snag is a temporary cash-flow problem, a delay of a few months.
"We are in discussions for alternative financing," Fisker said at the media launch for the Karma extended-range hybrid. "We don't want our future 100 percent reliant on DOE funding. It's been great to have. We just want to be sure we have capital without DOE."
The automaker has completed development for its mid-sized car, code-named Project Nina, and has built a running prototype. The next major step is to order tooling for the Nina at Fisker's Delaware plant -- at a cost estimated to match the $336 million remaining from Fisker's DOE Advanced Technology Vehicles Manufacturing loan.
"Nina is completely signed off, and it's 95 percent sourced," Fisker said. "We've sourced the BMW engine. We've spent millions and millions on that car. It's ready to build."
He said Fisker Automotive is in daily negotiations with several potential funding sources. He said he prefers not to give up equity in the company in exchange for funding, and he declined to comment on the possibility of an initial public offering.
"There are so many ways of getting financing without selling equity," Fisker said. "Before we put in these hundreds of millions of dollars, we need to know which partner we need to go with."
In addition to the DOE drawdown, Fisker has raised more than $860 million in private equity financing since 2007.
A company source said Vice Chairman Tom LaSorda is far from an outside observer. Rather, the former Chrysler CEO and General Motors manufacturing executive is involved in the fundraising process on a daily basis at Fisker headquarters.
The company has about 2,500 orders for the $103,000 Karma, which is assembled in Finland from mostly U.S.-sourced parts. But Fisker is not giving future sales projections and has declined to take orders for the Nina.
"We are a viable, self-funded car company," Fisker said. "We can actually be self-sustainable on the Karma. But we have bigger aspirations."
As for the $193 million already drawn down from the DOE for development costs on the Karma and Nina, Fisker said: "The way we are moving forward, we have a real chance of paying it back sooner, with interest. We haven't spent any DOE money since May."
One reason to avoid drawing down more DOE money: Fisker said he hates being a political football. For all the Republican slamming of Fisker's $529 million DOE loan -- Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney labeled it "crony capitalism" practiced by President Obama -- Fisker said he was first approached by DOE representatives during the George W. Bush presidency.
"I was asked to apply for the loan," Fisker said. "At the time, I had no idea this loan existed. We will sell cars to everybody, regardless of politics. Our chairman, [Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers venture capitalist] Ray Lane, is a Republican."
Politics aside, Fisker could not merely push back those DOE deadlines when they came due last month. And given the frenetic pace of a startup, Fisker said he does not want to be in that position again.
"With a startup, you estimate your milestones, and you have to make fairly aggressive estimates because time is money," he said.
"Many companies have put projects on idle because the plan is not working as expected or marketing wants to change stuff. I've been involved with endless programs where it was frozen for six months. It just was not politicized or publicized."