Bob Lutz Sees Stripped Down Fisker as Potential Gem
Bob Lutz isn't afraid to roll the dice, especially when he sees the possibility of hitting the jackpot.
That explains why the former vice chairman of General Motors, who now plays a leadership role with VL Automotive, is teaming up with Chinese auto parts supplier Wanxiang Group in a bid to buy the ailing Fisker.
CNBC has been unable to reach Lutz for a comment on the bid, but sources confirm the VL Automotive-Wainxing bid is one of three offers to buy Fisker.
No other details have been revealed about how much Lutz and his Chinese partners are offering, but it would include buying Fisker through a pre-packaged bankruptcy. Bankruptcy is important because it would allow the company's new owners—whether VL Automotive-Wanxiang or another bidder—to get a stripped-down automaker with a clean balance sheet.
However, it's unclear whether Fisker's $171 million loan with the Department of Energy would be involved in a bankruptcy filing.
(Read More: Fisker Fires Most of Its Rank-and-File Employees)
Lutz On Starting Up an Automaker
Two weeks ago, I talked with Lutz about the state of the auto industry, the slow growth in sales of electric cars and what it takes to start up an automaker. "Getting into the automobile business is not for the faint of heart," he told me.
"We are not spending very much money, so I think we are going to be very profitable. What most of these people do is they spend a ton of money upfront, go hugely into debt, get a big headquarters staff, have 300 or 400 people working for them and it just doesn't compute."
Lutz started VL Automotive with Gilbert Villareal and rolled out a prototype of the Destino at the Detroit Auto Show earlier this year. The Destino is essentially the Fisker Karma with the electric drive train replaced by a V-8 Corvette engine.
Never one to shy from hyping his latest venture, Lutz said last month that there is brisk demand for the Destino, which will sell for more than $175,000.
So Why Would Lutz Want to Buy Fisker, an Electric Car Company?
It would be a win-win for VL Automotive and Wanxiang.
VL Automotive guarantees parts for the Destino, and the Finland plant where the Karma is built has the tooling in place to fire up production again. Wanxiang would get greater access to the U.S. market and Fisker's electric car technology. The Chinese firm recently bought the electric-car battery maker A123 out of bankruptcy.
Would Lutz Want an Electric Car?
Part of what makes the possibility of Lutz and Wainxing buying Fisker so intriguing is because Lutz has a colorful track record when it comes to assessing environmental issues. Remember, just five years ago Lutz called the idea of global warming a "crock of &%&#".
Those comments overshadow the fact that Lutz understands the potential of the electric car. When has was at GM and it unveiled the Chevy Volt, Lutz was an early advocate to speed up the car's development.
"I have always said, 'Yes the electric revolution is coming, but it's going to be gradual.' And I have always said by 2020 maybe 10% of the vehicle market will be electric," Lutz told me in early May.
(Read More: Founder, Executive Chairman Fisker Automotive Quits)
Addressing the enthusiasm for electric cars from a few years ago Lutz said, "It was like everybody's next car is going to be electric and you knew that that was manifestly impossible, but a lot of people were carried away by the hype. Way too much government money was given away to far too many companies—who by the way did not all spend it wisely."
Karma Models in Demand
Fisker was one of those companies in the electric vehicle market that borrowed money from the government—$171 million, which the company still owes.
Meanwhile, roughly 2,500 Fisker Karmas were built and sold over the last year and half. Many of those are now being sold on the used-car market for half of what they sold for as new, which was often at least $103,000.
(Read More: Cut-Rate Karma: The 'New DeLorean'—At Half Price)
Bill Michlin, a dealer with the Fields Auto Group in Glencoe, Ill., recently sold a Fisker Karma for $59,100. Plenty of people still want the luxury car, he said. "The car is a pleasure to drive. It has horsepower beyond belief for an electric vehicle, and it's so fun and so gorgeous. And now it's available."