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Luxury carmaker Fisker revved up for revival

Fisker Automotive is back in business.

The luxury car company will establish Southern California's first new car manufacturing plant in more than two decades about 60 miles east of Los Angeles in the city of Moreno Valley, where it will begin building its plug-in electric hybrid automobiles.

The admired but embattled Fisker, which filed for bankruptcy protection in 2013 and was purchased by Chinese auto parts giant Wanxiang Group a year later, has signed a long-term, $30 million lease for a 555,670 square-foot facility.

Wanxiang Group also owns A123, the company that builds the lithium ion batteries that power the Fisker. The company reportedly is seeking to begin sales as soon as next year.

The assembly plant will be Southern California's first since General Motors closed an L.A. facility in 1992, and the state's second electric car manufacturing factory — joining entrepreneur Elon Musk's Tesla Motors plant in the Bay Area.

The electric-car company was co-founded by Henrik Fisker, a graduate of Pasadena's Art Center College of Design who won admirers for his elegant Aston Martin and BMW designs. Its Karma plug-in electric hybrids captured the imagination of the automotive press, and despite their $100,000 price tag, were brisk sellers — until battery glitches resulted in a product recall that bankrupted the battery manufacturer, damaged the brand's reputation and brought production to a halt.

Fewer than 2,500 of the cars were sold before production ceased in 2012, and before the company could begin selling a promised mass-market, affordable electric vehicle. Fisker himself resigned from his executive chairman position at the company amid its financial struggles in 2013.

It was not immediately clear what involvement Fisker would have, if any, at the new facility.

Wanxiang, said to be China's largest auto parts company, paid a reported $149 million to take over the bankrupt Fisker and $257 million for A123, which also made batteries for BMW's hybrid 3- and 5-Series cars and the Chevrolet Spark.

Formerly seen as a possible rival to Northern California's Tesla, Fisker Automotive re-enters a matured electric vehicle market. The once-struggling Tesla now produces 50,000 of its Model S electric luxury cars annually, and continues to promise delivery of a mass-market electric sedan within two years.

Still, while many other car companies have fielded many variations of battery-electric and electric-hybrid automobiles, the alternative-fuel vehicle market has struggled to gain momentum.

"The alternative fuel segment is the only part of the auto market that isn't growing," said Kelley Blue Book senior analyst Karl Brauer. "But Tesla is still growing. The market for high-end, stylish electric vehicles still shows signs of life."

In making the announcement, the city of Moreno Valley said it expected Fisker to create 150 new jobs to work in the new facility, which in addition to manufacturing automobiles would also feature a showroom and guided tours.

"This is a landmark for our city," Moreno Valley Mayor Jesse Molina said in a statement that lauded the company's promise to hire locally from the area's "highly qualified workforce."

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