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Fisker had big dreams to compete with Tesla. What went wrong?

Laurence Darmiento, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Automotive News

Jessica Caldwell, an industry analyst for, said the auto-review site has not yet published its own take on the updated vehicle, but reviews of early buggy versions of the SUV done by others haven't helped its cause. "Giving people vehicles that are not quite done and ready — I feel like that is just setting yourself up for failure," she said.

An updated Ocean reviewed by U.S. News and World Report this week got generally favorable grades, with the writer saying it had "more innovative tech, a far better design and build quality that I think is miles ahead" of the rival Tesla Model Y SUV — while still complaining about software bugs needing another update.

Magna's plant in Graz has a storied history, producing vehicles such as the Mercedes-Benz E-Class, the Jeep Grand Cherokee and the new Toyota Supra — making the arrangement look like "it should work on paper," said Needham & Co. analyst Chris Pierce. "But, you know, things are just a lot harder in the real world."

A spokesperson for Magna declined to comment on Fisker, but said the plant has produced 33 models and more than 4 million vehicles to "world-leading standards," including the Jaguar I-PACE all-electric SUV.

Fisker, meanwhile, is pivoting away from selling cars direct, and is moving to open a network of dealerships. Like other EV startups, Fisker copied the direct sales model adopted by Tesla that dispensed with the franchises that most automakers prize to market, sell and service their vehicles. However, that didn't work out.

Fisker said during last month's earnings call that the company received 250 "expressions of interest" from dealers in North America and Europe, and expects to have a network of 50 by the second half of the year. It also will continue to sell direct in Europe. "I expect we will keep signing up multiple dealers every week during the next few months," he said.


The company, which employs 1,200 people globally, including about 300 in Manhattan Beach, said the focus of the layoffs were in sales and related functions that would be handled by the dealer network.

Tesla could do without dealers, Bauer said, as Musk was a master at generating free publicity — and because the company had few competitors when it was founded by two entrepreneurs in 2003 and later taken over by the billionaire.

"Musk had enough money and a 20-year runway to make it happen," said Bauer, who noted that amount of breathing room is no longer possible in an industry with multiple startups and legacy manufacturers producing their own electric vehicles.

He called Fisker's plan to switch to a dealer network "too little too late."


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