02nd Mar 2012

Good Karma for Tom LaSorda

Fisker Automotive is the Californian carmaker responsible for building one of the world’s first  plug-in hybrid electric cars. The Fisker Karma is a sleek, low-slung luxury vehicle that looks something like a Maserati Quattroporte. Retailing for between $103000 and $116000, depending on the extras, the Karma is aimed squarely at the upper end of the market (Justin Bieber just got one for his eighteenth birthday). When Fisker began rolling out the Karma in December, it fired the starter pistol in the race for the new premium green car market, which will see competition from most major car manufacturers sooner or later.

Which brings me to Tom LaSorda, who will be taking over as CEO of the company from founder Henrik Fisker, according to a report in Wednesday’s Wall Street Journal. Mr Fisker wants to focus on the development side of the business, with the aim of creating a hybrid family sedan, the Nina, which will be more suitable for the mass market than the exotic Karma.

Fisker was the beneficiary of a $529 million loan allocated by the Bush administration for the development of next generation green automotive technology. But the company ran into trouble last month when it failed to meet certain development deadlines crucial to the continuing availability of the loan-money from the Department of Energy. The development of a family car is a key condition of the loan.

So ex-Chrysler Chief LaSorda finds himself in the driving seat at Fisker Automotive, hoping to roll out a mass market, electrically powered family sedan by 2013. He may have a bumpy road ahead of him. Last month the company laid off 26 employees and halted production at its Delaware plant while it renegotiated the terms of its loan with the DoE. A spokesman stressed the fact that launching a new car company is exceedingly difficult – delays and missed sales targets are only to be expected.

Fisker also faces the extra challenges associated with companies specializing in innovative new technology. It already had to recall some of its Karmas because of potentially defective battery packs. It’s no wonder Henrik Fisker wanted to bring in a strong CEO to run the company while he devotes his energy to designing and developing the new model car.

The stakes are high, and LaSorda will be under pressure to take the company in a new direction, fast. He will need vision and strategy, the right people to put his plan into action, and he will have to deliver results. LaSorda’s first 100 days will prove to be a major factor determining his success in the first 12 months, and beyond.

Hilda Goold

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