Senator Charles Grassley (R-IA) doesn't want technology funded by American taxpayers to go to China and, guess what, I don't like the idea all that much, either — but don't have a better one.
If Fisker, which makes the plug-in hybrid Karma (or did, before its battery supplier went bankrupt), had made its own way in the world there would be no question it could be sold to the highest bidder. But in 2010 you and I funded production of the $103,000 car and its successor, the Nina, with $529 million ($193 million was spent).
Fisker has a sexy plug-in hybrid car, but it's been plagued by performance issues, battery problems and funding woes. It says it will soon re-start production, but that's unlikely to happen without some kind of deep-pocketed strategic partnership. And the Chinese are the only people waving checkbooks.
Two companies, Geely Holding Group (which owns Volvo) and Dongfeng Motor Corp., are in the running for Fisker, and Geely is said to have the inside track. Both companies are making offers in the $200 to $300 million range.
But Geely or Dongfeng, we still have American taxpayers subsidizing a company that's going to end up with majority Chinese ownership. Raise your hand if you're wild about this.
Virtually the same thing happened with Fisker's (and GM's) battery supplier, A123. The assets of the Boston-based company went up for auction, and it looked like U.S. battery veteran Johnson Controls would emerge with the prize, but instead the high bidder was China's Wangxiang Group, which won federal approval of the sale last January.
"Like A123, this looks like another example of taxpayer dollars going to a failed experiment," said Grassley. "Technology developed with American taxpayer subsidies should not be sold off to China." Grassley seemed to acknowledge that the sale would eventually go through. It probably will: there were no European, America, Korean or Japanese bidders.
That said, there's nothing all that secretive about Fisker's plug-in hybrid technology, and it's not as though national security is at stake. No matter who owns Fisker, the car is still largely dependent on western buyers, plus a Chinese billionaire or two.
So far, Fisker has sold something like 1,500 Karmas, and was scheduled to start building the more compact Nina at a former GM factory in Delaware before it shut down. Right now the Karma is made in, of all places, Finland. It could probably be built in China, but quality control might suffer more.
If the alternative to selling Fisker to China is closing it down, by all means it should go to Geely or Dongfeng, or whoever will buy it.