Loan supports plug-in car project

The US Department of Energy has announced the closing of a $528.7m (£346.6) loan with Fisker Automotive for the development and production of two lines of plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEV).

The loan will support the Karma, a full-size, four-door sports sedan and a line of family-oriented models being developed under the company’s Project Nina program.

Fisker, a start-up based in southern California, expects to manufacture the Karma and Project Nina lines at a recently shuttered General Motors factory in Wilmington, Delaware. Fisker anticipates that it will employ 2,000 assembly workers.

When full production is reached in 2015, Fisker estimates annual sales at up to 115,000 vehicles.

Combining Fisker projected sales volume with the expected sales volume of the Nissan Leaf and the Tesla Model S, sales of electric and PHEVs funded with DOE ATVM loans could exceed 300,000 annually.

Initially, Fisker Automotive will use the proceeds of the loan for qualifying engineering integration costs as it works with primarily US suppliers to incorporate components into the Karma’s design.

The engineering integration work will be conducted in Irvine, California, where engineers will design tools and equipment, and develop manufacturing processes.

The Karma is scheduled to appear in showrooms in late 2010. The second stage will involve the purchase and retooling of the former GM plant to manufacture the Project Nina line of PHEVs, which is expected to begin rolling off the assembly line in late 2012.

Fisker says its cars are driven by electric motors that derive their power from a rechargeable lithium-ion battery, or, when that is depleted, by a generator driven by an gas-powered engine. The Karma and Project Nina models will have an all-electric, tailpipe-emission-free range of 40 to 50 miles on a full charge.

The battery can be charged at home overnight. Using gas and electric power, Fisker plug-in hybrids are expected to have a cruising range of up to 300 miles.