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Fisker to release Karma hybrid (finally), with an extra $150M and possible IPO

After several rounds of delays and price increases, electric car startup Fisker says it will start production next month for the Karma, a luxury plug-in hybrid priced at $95,900.

The company raised $150 million earlier this month at a $600 million valuation, and its backers include storied venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caulfield & Byers and New Enterprise Associates. Production of the Karma will start March 21, so it looks like the company is on track to begin selling them in March or April of this year.

Fisker is often compared to electric car company Tesla because both are producing luxury electric vehicles and have received hefty amounts of government and venture capital backing. But Fisker focuses on plug-in hybrids and has yet to sell a car, while Tesla has gone public, focuses on all-electric cars and already has one (the Roadster) out on the market, with another, the Model S, planned for release next year.

Still, investor Scott Sandell of New Enterprise Associates thinks Fisker could copy Tesla’s success. In an interview with VentureWire, he said the company offers “potentially a huge return in a fairly short order. … Tesla is worth $3 billion. … The public markets want a few more of these. I think it could be a blockbuster IPO.”

Fisker will ramp up production of the Karma over the course of this year. The vehicle is expected to go up to 50 miles on battery before switching to gas and can go from zero to 62 miles per hour in less than six seconds. The company eventually expects to produce 15,000 Karmas a year and also has plans for a line of more affordable hybrids, termed “Project Nina”, projected to start at $47,000 and become available in 2012. The government expects 1,000 Karmas to be produced this year. The company will be closing reservations, which cost $5,000 apiece, after receiving over 3,000 orders so far, according to VentureWire.

Fisker was founded by Henri Fisker, a veteran luxury car designer. It was granted a $529 million loan guarantee from the Department of Energy and  $21.5 million in grants and loans from the state of Delaware, where it is refitting an old GM factory to produce its cars.

The Karma was supposed to launch in 2009. Then September 2010. Then last year Fisker said it was planning to sell 15,000 Karmas by the end of 2011 at a $87,500 price point, with a ramp-up to 100,000 Project Nina sedans a year by 2015. Now, the company says it will being producing 1,500 Karmas a month by October and still wants to hit 15,000 Karmas annually, it just won’t be able to do that this year. And the Karma’s price has gone up almost 20 percent since its initial price of $80,000 in 2008, which then went up to $87,900. In December, the company raised it again to $95,900.

Fisker isn’t the only electric car startup hoping to go public after releasing its first car, nor is it the only car company to experience delays with new cars. Electric sedan maker Coda has said repeatedly than an IPO is in its sights (and also delayed the debut of its sedan from last year to late 2011). Last year an executive told VentureBeat the company hoped this would be the year for an IPO.

Fisker will be up against other plug-in hybrids like the Chevrolet Volt, which is already on sale and experiencing strong demand, and Toyota has plans for a plug-in Prius in 2012.

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