Explaining Southern California's economy

Meet Tony Posawatz, the new CEO of Fisker Automotive


Fisker Automotive

The Fisker Karma, an extended-range hybrid EV from Fisker Automotive, based in Southern California. Will a new CEO keep it moving?

Below is video of Tony Posawatz that I shot during the 2009 L.A. Auto Show, when I was covering the car business for Slate. At the time, Tony was in charge of GM's Chevy Volt rollout. He recently retired from GM, but now he's been named the new CEO of Fisker Automotive, the Southern California-based manufacturer of hybrid-electric luxury cars.

Tony knows his way around the specific type of hybrid tech that both the Volt and the Karma use. What's different of course is that the Volt sells for $40,000, while the Karma goes for $100,000. I had the chance to drive both on the same day at the Dwell on Design Green Car Ride & Drive. They're excellent cars. But they are very, very different.

What they have in common is that they've shown a tendency to catch fire (a Karma went flame-on this weekend). This doesn't surprise me too much, as the technologies in both are relatively new and untested over the long haul.


Head downtown to drive green cars in LA this weekend

Molly Peterson/KPCC

CODA Automotive, now based in West L.A., is among the manufacturers participating in this weekend's Green Car Ride & Drive and Dwell on Design in Downtown Los Angeles.

I spent a few hours yesterday morning at Dwell on Design at the L.A. Convention Center. Dwell on Design is a well-attended design show that's put on by Dwell magazine. What I was focused on was the Green Car Ride & Drive. I've driven quite a few cars — I used to write about the auto industry — but I've driven very few electric cars or hybrids.

So the Green Car Ride & Drive was pretty much can't miss for me. And it's definitely worth checking out. It runs through 4 p.m. today. Anyone who attends Dwell on Design can head out in front of the Convention Center and take one of numerous EVs, hybrids, and even hydrogen-powered rides for a spin.

I got behind the wheel of a Fisker Karma, one of the most expensive and luxurious hybrids on plant Earth — as well as a car created by a California company, Fisker Automotive. I also sampled the rather less expensive but no less impressive Coda all-electric car. And I finally got behind the wheel of a Chevy Volt.


Retired auto exec LaSorda to run struggling electric carmaker Fisker

Vanity Fair & Fisker Automotive Toast Dreamworks Pictures Golden Globes Best Drama Nominations "The Help" And "War Horse"

Charley Gallay/Getty Images for Vanity Fair

LOS ANGELES, CA - JANUARY 13: Marti Eulberg (L) and Ciara attend Vanity Fair & Fisker Automotive Toast Dreamworks Pictures Golden Globes Best Drama Nominations 'The Help' And 'War Horse' at Cecconi's Restaurant on January 13, 2012 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Charley Gallay/Getty Images for Vanity Fair)

I don't really think this is good news. Fisker Automotive, the startup electric carmaker, is really starting to huff and puff just as rival Tesla Motors is preparing to blast off. Founder Henrik Fisker has handed over the leadership reins to Tom LaSorda, a veteran of Detroit and specifically of Chrysler. But LaSorda labored at Chrysler during the automaker's failed marriage to Germany's Daimler. And when Daimler dumped Chrysler in to the arms of private-equity firm Cerberus Capital Management, LaSorda was content to play second banana to what I consider one of the least effective CEOs every to grace the Motor City, Robert Nardelli, who previously had caused all manner of problems for Home Depot.

It should be pointed out that Fisker only current vehicle, the Karma, isn't even a pure EV. It's a plug-in hyrbrid, with a drivetrain similar to the Chevy Volt. Unlike the Volt, which sells for roughly $41,000 (before tax credits of up to $7,500), the Karma goes for $103,000. A cheaper model, dubbed "Nina," is on the drawing board, but as the Wall Street Journal reports, Fisker lost the $529 million Department of Energy loan guarantee it need to move forward on the vehicle.


Man defies Newt Gingrich, installs gun rack in Chevy Volt

First, Newt Gingrich insisted while on the campaign trail that you can't put a gun rack in a Chevy Volt, the gas-electric hybrid vehicle that Newt referred to as an "Obama car." 

Then General Motors, the company that builds the Volt, took the high ground in a post titled "We Did Not Engineer the Volt to Be a Political Punching Bag." The company — famously bailed out by a combination of the Bush and Obama administrations, the pushed through bankruptcy before emerging as a serially profitable enterprise — pointed out that you can put a gun rack in a Volt, but asked why you would want to. It's a durn sedan, after all.

The chap above set out to prove Gingrich wrong, quote literally. What's impressive here is not just that you can install a gun rack in a Volt, but that you can install one in about half an hour using $7 in materials.