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Rift over funding prompted resignation of Fisker founder : sources

Henrik Fisker, co-founder, executive chairman, and chief designer at Fisker Automotive speaks during the Chicago Auto Show, February 7, 2013
Henrik Fisker, co-founder, executive chairman, and chief designer at Fisker Automotive speaks during the Chicago Auto Show, February 7, 2013

By Deepa Seetharaman

DETROIT (Reuters) - The abrupt resignation of Fisker Automotive's founder Henrik Fisker was prompted by disagreements with the company's chief executive over funding and operational strategy, two people familiar with the matter said.

Friction between Fisker and CEO Tony Posawatz came to a head as the cash-strapped "green car" start-up stepped up efforts to find a financial backer to buy a stake and help build its second model, the Atlantic plug-in hybrid, the sources said.

Fisker left last week at a sensitive time for the company, which has been in strategic talks with China's Geely, the owner of Sweden's Volvo, and state-owned Dongfeng Motor Group Co <0489.HK>. Geely has since bowed out of bidding process, sources have said, though they added the decision was not related to Fisker's resignation.

While both executives agreed that the company needed a strategic partner after the rocky, delayed introduction of the $100,000 plus Karma plug-in hybrid, they were at odds over whether to rely on federal funds and the extent of the financing needed.

Posawatz, a former General Motors Co engineer who had led the firm since August, sought to work with the U.S. Department of Energy to regain access to a $529 million federal loan, the sources said. The DOE had barred the company from drawing down the remaining $336 million of the loan due to the delays in the launch of the Karma.

But Fisker, a noted designer who also has worked for BMW and Aston Martin, was opposed to relying on additional federal funds. He also favored a smaller operating budget than the one backed by Posawatz. The difference between the two budgets was in the "hundreds of millions", one source said.

The sources declined to be identified as they were disclosing internal discussions at the company.

A Fisker spokesman did not return messages seeking comment.

In an email last week, Fisker said he was leaving due to "several major disagreements" between himself and the company's executive management over business strategy. He declined to describe the nature of the disagreements.

In addition to the Karma's delayed launch, the auto maker faced several quality problems with the Karma last year and the bankruptcy of its main battery supplier, A123 Systems Inc.

The U.S. presidential election also cast a negative light on the company and turned it into a political punching bag.

The company said Fisker's exit would not prompt a change in corporate strategy.

Since its founding in 2007, Fisker Automotive raised more than $1.2 billion from private investors. But it was relying on the DOE funding to pay for the Atlantic sedan, which would have been the company's high-volume model.

The DOE awarded the funds in 2009 as part of an Obama administration program to spur advanced vehicle development.

(Additional reporting by Paul Lienert and Norihiko Shirouzu; Editing by Edwina Gibbs)

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