Fisker Karma at Laguna Seca
There's nothing like a little old-fashioned reporter shoe leather, especially when few other automotive media outlets bother to make the trip.
Our colleague Gary Gastelu of Fox News traveled down to Delaware yesterday, to cover the official announcement of Fisker Automotive's $18 million purchase of the former GM plant that build the Pontiac Solstice and Saturn Sky.
During a speech extolling the benefits Fisker would bring to his home state, Vice President Joe Biden asked the crowd to “imagine when this factory ... is making 100,000 plug-in hybrid sedan, coupes and crossovers every single year."
Biden spills the beans
Since Fisker has said nothing about the model variants in the Nina line, usually discussed as a four-door sedan smaller than the 2010 Fisker Karma plug-in hybrid sports sedan and convertible coupe, the notoriously gaffe-prone Veep pretty much spilled the beans.
Biden later described the Project Nina sedan as looking like "a four-door Ferrari", according to founder and CEO Henrik Fisker. It is slated to go into production in 2012, probably as a 2013 model. As much as half the production will be exported, says Fisker.
A plug-in for the new world
The Nina is named for one of the three legendary ships in which Christopher Columbus reached North America. Though as Wikipedia notes, "The real name of the Niña was Santa Clara. The name Niña was probably [just] a pun on the name of her owner, Juan Niño."
Fisker's Nina will join a growing number of compact or midsize plug-in cars aiming for $40,000 price, before or after a $7,500 Federal tax credit. The best-known is the 2011 Chevrolet Volt extended-range electric vehicle, followed by the fully electric 2012 Nissan Leaf.
From $80K now to $40K in 2012
The Karma, on the other hand, is priced at $87,400, bring its price barely below $80,000 with the credit. Fisker plans to have 15,000 Karmas a year built by Valmet in Finland, though he announced that the second-generation Karma would be built in Delaware as well in 2016.
Despite all the publicity, no journalist has yet driven the Karma, although its early production is said to be starting within before the end of the year.
Wearing UAW green
One facet of the announcement has been overlooked in all the speculation about Fisker's vehicles. That's the issue of United Auto Workers representation of the Boxwood Road plant workers, which was confirmed by Fisker at the event.
The number of UAW Local 435 members in attendance proved that the prospect of restarting the plant is manna from heaven to the UAW faithful. But no contract terms have been announced--they're almost surely not final--and likely won't be until a deal is in place.
Pattern bargaining for Fisker?
Which raises the question: Will Fisker get to negotiate its own contract for the 1,500 workers it expects to hire, or will union officials demands that the new green-car startup abide by "pattern bargaining," the practice under which GM, Ford, and Chrysler all sign identical contracts with UAW workers?
With GM and Chrysler having gone through bankruptcy, their surviving workers have had their benefits slashed, work rules streamlined, and wages for new hires cut to approximately $12 an hour. Those contracts were a non-negotiable condition of U.S. government funding.
Balking by Ford workers
But at Ford, which did not file for bankruptcy or take government funding, workers from six of eight locals have turned down similar concessions aimed at keeping Ford's costs as low as its taxpayer-financed competitors. Voting continues, plant by plant, this week.
Their reasoning: While hardly out of the woods, Ford is doing better, so they have sacrificed enough. Observers say the real sticking point is limits on their right to strike, identical to those in place at GM and Chrysler, if a national contract is not reached in 2011.
Shackled before it starts?
So the real question becomes whether Fisker can work with the UAW to craft a contract that will take it to profitability and suit the different manufacturing needs of a startup company that is building vehicles with very different powertrains ... or whether it is beset by contentious labor relations with a workforce with a sense of entitlement.
Also important: Will Fisker competitor Tesla Motors agree to UAW representation for its new California manufacturing plant, which it plans to use to build its 2012 Model S electric sports sedan? Somehow we suspect not.