Chinese auto giant Wanxiang wins Fisker bid

A Delaware judge approved the sale of bankrupt electric car maker Fisker and its assets to Chinese auto parts giant Wanxiang, according to local reports on Tuesday. Wanxiang, which also bought up bankrupt battery maker A123 Systems in late 2012, won the bid over Hong Kong billionaire Richard Li’s company Hybrid Technology, and the auction occurred over the end of last week.

As Quartz put it, the auction had “pitted two Chinese billionaires against one another: Wanxiang’s Lu Guanqiu vs. Hong Kong telecoms titan Richard Li.” Wanxiang bid $149 million for Fisker, which is substantially larger than some earlierprices that had been offered, but just a fraction of Fisker’s valuation at one time. Lu’s advantages were that Wanxiang owns A123 — which made the batteries for Fisker’s Karma car — and also that he appeared to be willing to bail out unsecured creditors.

Wanxiang has said if it wins the bid it can soon restart production on Fisker’s first electric car, the Karma, and it can start providing parts and services for current Karmas on the roads. It will also resume development of the second car, the Atlantic. Only about 2,000 Karmas were sold before Fisker stopped production.

Wanxiang’s U.S. division, based in Elgin, Illinois, has 6,000 workers in the U.S. and $2.5 billion in annual revenue. The Chinese company has a total of $13 billion in revenue and 45,000 employees across the world.

The head of Wanxiang America, Pin Li, called cleantech “the new frontier for civilization,” in an interview with me a couple years ago. The company is involved in all types of clean technology, from electric cars, to solar, to wind farms, to batteries.

Wanxiang has also invested $420 million into GreatPoint Energy, a company based in Cambridge, Mass. that converts coal into cleaner-burning natural gas. At the time that deal was described by the Wall Street Journal as “the largest ever by a Chinese corporation into a venture-capital-funded U.S. company.” Wanxiang also invested in another struggling company electric car company Smith Electric Vehicles.

As with Wanxiang’s deal with A123, controversy will follow the realization that a Chinese conglomerate will likely be taking over an electric car maker that got substantial funding from the U.S. government. But as I reported yesterday, there’s money coming from Asia for some of these hard to fund cleantech innovations.

Is the world ready for more Karmas? The car received weak reviews and the brand has been tarnished substantially. But clearly there’s been high demand for Tesla and its cars, so if a revived Fisker can overcome its past problems, it could find a market for its cars.

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