Green Light for Fisker’s Project Nina Factory

From the ashes of the old General Motors (s GM), startup Fisker Automotive, which plans to launch a pricey and delayed plug-in hybrid sports car by 2011, hopes to give rise to a new generation of plug-in hybrid vehicles. A bankruptcy judge on Tuesday gave the green light to Fisker’s $20 million deal to buy a plant in Wilmington, Del. where GM once built Saturn, Pontiac and Opel GT models, and where Fisker aims to build its second-gen cars.

The Department of Energy awarded Fisker $528.7 million in low-interest loans (subject to certain benchmarks) back in September, and Fisker has said it will use funds from the loan to buy the Wilmington plant from Motors Liquidation Co., or “the Old GM.” That’s the entity created as part of the automaker’s government-managed bankruptcy proceedings to contain GM’s bad assets, allowing the Detroit car maker to get a fresh start last summer as General Motors Company, or “the New GM,” in which the federal government holds a nearly 61 percent stake.

Fisker has said it intends to produce its $47,400 plug-in hybrid vehicle Project Nina starting in 2012, and expects to invest $175 million over the next three years retooling the facility. By 2014, Fisker wants to have the plant cranking out 75,000-100,000 vehicles a year. The company, which has raised more than $300 million in private investment from backers including battery supplier A123 Systems (s AONE), aims to sell less than half of those stateside; the rest are slated for export.

Fisker’s acquisition of the Wilmington plant could still be delayed — bankruptcy proceedings can be sticky business. But as the Wall Street Journal explains, a hearing agenda filed by the law firm representing GM’s bankruptcy estate lists the Wilmington sale as an “uncontested matter” that is “going forward.”

According to a report from the Delaware News Journal, Motors Liquidation Co. found only two parties interested in the plant, and Fisker was the only company to submit an offer. Tesla Motors (s TSLA), Toyota (s TM) and other “green vehicle manufacturers” were approached about buying the facility, according to court records noted today by the Detroit News, but they did not show interest.

Part of the difficulty with finding a buyer for this type of facility is scale — not too many companies are in the market for a 3.2 million-square-foot plant sitting on 142 acres of land. But this comes at a unique time in the U.S. auto industry, with new players Fisker and Tesla pumped full of federal funding (and significant private investment) to rapidly scale up their manufacturing capacity.

Tesla, for its part, plans to buy the NUMMI plant in Fremont, Calif. (now jointly owned by Toyota and the Old GM), for approximately $42 million. Tesla intends to use the facility for production of its own second-gen, mid-priced plug-in vehicle, the Model S, starting in 2012. According to a filing with financial regulators ahead of its IPO yesterday, Tesla’s purchase agreement with NUMMI is for 207 acres (around 55 percent of the land at the site) including all of the manufacturing facilities.

Photo courtesy of Fisker Automotive

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