The Lil' Story of How Fisker Met Quantum

It’s odd to think that the genesis of Fisker Automotive, maker of one of the sleekest looking plug-in hybrids around, was a chance meeting in a Range Rover showroom. Alan Niedzwiecki, president and CEO of Fisker partner and drivetrain maker Quantum Technologies, told us outside the Nordic Green Conference that his girlfriend, who worked at a Newport Beach Range Rover dealership, was randomly the first one to connect Henrik Fisker and Niedzwiecki.

The chance meeting led to a lunch in January of 2007, Niedzwiecki said, where Fisker told Niedzwiecki he wanted to design gasoline cars in China. He then asked Fisker: “Why don’t you design a car around my drivetrain?” Fisker’s response? According to Niedzwiecki: “Let’s start a company!”

A year later, Quantum, of which GM is a stakeholder, said it was exiting gasoline auto-making altogether, selling 12 factories and laying off nearly 600 employees, to focus on green cars. That same day, Fisker unveiled their first car, the Karma, at the Detroit Auto show. Fisker Automotive was officially launched nine months later, majority owned (62 percent) by Quantum, a stake that has since been diluted as the company has raised more capital.

Quantum’s already-developed drivetrain and Fisker’s clear vision for the Karma have allowed the automotive startup to move quickly toward production. The four-door Karma is scheduled to be delivered in late 2009. Fisker is also planning on rolling out two-door, convertible and SUV-crossover models soon thereafter.

By 2011, Fisker plans on producing 15,000 vehicles in total, Niedzwiecki said. He added that the company is also planning to offer a much cheaper — in the $40,000 range — plug-in hybrid after 2011, with production plans for 100,000 a year.

Quantum says it drivetrain, which serves as the heart of Fisker Automotive, was the result of multiple military projects to develop silent and heat signature-free vehicles for U.S. Special Forces. With a tested drivetrain under its belt, Fisker says it was able to get around the sticky transmission issues that have held up competitor Tesla Motors.

Speaking of Tesla, Kleiner Perkins partner and Fisker investor Ray Lane earlier today said the company’s recently filed lawsuit against Fisker was “ridiculous.” Quantum Chairman Dale Rasmussen was similarly dismissive, calling it “meritless.” I guess we’ll see.