In an unexpected announcement, struggling startup electric-car maker Fisker Automotive this morning named Tony Posawatz its new CEO and President.
He replaces Tom LaSorda, himself appointed CEO only in late February. LaSorda will leave the company but remain available as an advisor.
Posawatz spent more than four years in executive positions on the team that developed the ground-breaking Chevrolet Volt range-extended electric car.
Six weeks ago, he retired from 32 years at General Motors, and few expected him to jump right back into the car business.
But aside from GM, Fisker is the sole carmaker now selling a range-extended electric vehicle (or series hybrid). On the basis of technology alone, his new position makes sense.
In the words of company cofounder Henrik Fisker, the appointment is a "continuing strengthening of the management team."
Posawatz faces two challenges, both immediate and both daunting.
First, he must clean up the mess around the launch of the 2012 Fisker Karma luxury sport sedan, which finally struggled into the market late last year.
The Karma has been plagued by one recall, two service upgrades, a slow production ramp-up, and quality flaws both large and small.
Also, battery packs in hundreds of Karmas had to be replaced following a recall by lithium-ion cell maker A123 Systems.
The latest challenge is the second fire within three months in a Karma, a car of which about 1,000 have been built, according to Fisker.
Second, he must plan and execute the development of the Fisker Atlantic, the company's follow-on vehicle--and the one it expects to sell in enough volume to make the company profitable enough to survive.
The Atlantic was unveiled in April at the New York Auto Show, but its schedule too has slipped. It will have a second generation of the company's powertrain.
As yet, there is no firm production timetable--and the Wilmington, Delaware, factory in which it was to be built may be mothballed until a third Fisker vehicle line emerges.
Fisker Atlantic concept unveiling before New York Auto Show, April 2012Enlarge Photo
If the company survives until then, that is.
But Posawatz, said respected electric-car advocate Chelsea Sexton, "loves this sort of underdog challenge, and the potential to do cool stuff."
A "car guy" through and through, he enjoys the demands of doing the unexpected--and occasionally the impossible.
"I couldn't think of any other program where I'd be having as much fun" as on the Volt, he said in a 2009 interview, just a few months after GM had declared bankruptcy and gone through a grueling Federal restructuring.
"I mean, the whole team is working hard, but we're having fun."
Much of the Volt team, Sexton said, has "seemed bored after working for years with their hair on fire" and she suspects Posawatz felt similarly. He once termed the Volt project a "startup inside GM," so the scale of Fisker's challenges may be familiar.
Sexton views the addition of Posawatz to the Fisker team as a huge positive for the beleaguered company.
"It may seem bizarre at first" that he would go from GM--where he'd spent virtually his whole career--to the struggling startup in southern California, she said.
But, "Tony's industry respect, experience, and connection to top talent in the electric-car world will help Fisker more than dollars would at this point."
Tom LasordaEnlarge Photo
In her opinion, it's a good fit. "The job totally suits Tony's personality and his place in life right now," she said.
"He's so well respected, and Fisker is seen as so far gone, that no one will blame him if it can't be saved."
"And, people will go to work for Tony who would never join Fisker on their own," Sexton added. "His first priority needs to be recruiting that talent and cultivating the stakeholder relationships that have long been lacking with Fisker."
More familiar faces from the original Volt development team and the industry at large may well join Posawatz, she suggested, once he's situated.
Meanwhile, so much for Posawatz's stated goal of "unwinding near the ocean, reading, writing, thinking, and enjoying the activity and time with family."
He's already at work in Fisker's California offices this week.