Henrik Fisker is working with an investor group to salvage Fisker Automotive, the "green" car company he co-founded nearly six years ago that is now struggling to stave off bankruptcy, people familiar with the matter said this week.
The discussions follow Henrik Fisker's resignation from the company in March after finding himself increasingly at odds with other top executives over strategy.
The well-regarded car designer is now teamed up with an investor group led by Hong Kong billionaire and Fisker investor Richard Li. The group is looking to buy the Department of Energy's loan to Fisker without making the car company resort to bankruptcy.
The Henrik Fisker-Richard Li team is one of at least two groups seeking to revive the automaker. A separate group including former General Motors executive Bob Lutz is looking to buy Fisker for $20 million, sources said on Wednesday.
Southern California-based Fisker Automotive is known for its plug-in hybrid sports car, the Karma, which starts at $103,000. The company has not built a car since last July.
Fisker must repay a $171 million DOE loan extended in 2009 under a program intended to promote advanced vehicles. The loan has been one source of pressure on Fisker, which hired bankruptcy advisors this year and has been looking for a buyer.
The DOE is examining the legal ramifications of selling the loan, a person familiar with the agency's thinking said Thursday.
Such a step would not resolve any outstanding debt owed to suppliers. The company faces a steep challenge to regain credibility after a string of financial and quality setbacks.
But wresting free of its federal loan obligations could make Fisker more attractive to potential buyers. Under that scenario, backers of the company also might be able to recoup their investment, unlike a bankruptcy where they would most likely be wiped out.
Tom LaSorda, who briefly led Fisker last year and has personally invested in the company, said he hoped Fisker could find a buyer outside the bankruptcy process.
"If it goes the other way, you get nothing," LaSorda said in an interview on Thursday. He said buying the U.S. loan would be a "very smart, strategic move," but declined to comment further on investor efforts to salvage the company.
The sources spoke on condition of anonymity because the talks are confidential. Fisker Automotive, Henrik Fisker, the DOE and Pacific Century Group, the private investment group chaired by Richard Li, could not be reached for comment.
It was unclear what role Henrik Fisker would take with the company and whether he would further invest in the automaker.