A car deal fuels the green economy

Fisker Automotive, the maker of the Fisker Karma, is back in business with a deal for a new Moreno Valley manufacturing plant.
Fisker Automotive, the maker of the Fisker Karma, is back in business with a deal for a new Moreno Valley manufacturing plant. Fisker Automotive

One hundred and fifty jobs may not be much in an economy the size of California’s. But the comeback of the luxury car company Fisker Automotive is still something to celebrate.

Fisker made news when it opened in 2007 in Orange County, and not just because its signature plug-in hybrid, the $100,000-plus Fisker Karma, was so beautiful that even Lamborghini collectors drooled with envy.

Henrik Fisker’s high-tech cars, taken together with Elon Musk’s Tesla Motors, seemed to personify California’s new, green economic future. Unfortunately, by 2013, Fisker was bankrupt, a casualty of legal battles with Tesla, lithium battery issues and other trials.

It wasn’t clear what would become of it when China’s largest auto parts supplier swooped in and bought its assets. Then, this week, the reconstituted company, the state and the city of Moreno Valley announced good news: the first new car manufacturing plant to open in Southern California in more than 20 years.

Those 150 plant jobs are, like all manufacturing jobs, golden. They promise middle-class wages, benefits and job security.

Fisker’s resurrection, combined with the Tesla factory in Fremont and the excitement around Google’s driverless car project, suggests the emergence of a 21st-century version of California’s once-thriving automotive manufacturing sector.

In January, Ford opened a new research and innovation center in Palo Alto. Last month, Volkswagen announced plans to open a new parts distribution center in Sacramento. Hyundai recently completed a new North American headquarters in Fountain Valley.

It takes some of the sting out of Tesla’s decision to choose Nevada for its battery-making facility and Toyota’s decision to move its North American headquarters to Texas.

California wasn’t Fisker’s only suitor. Texas was in the running. But more and more, California is a natural fit for green companies.

A spokesman at Gov. Jerry Brown’s economic development group, Go-Biz, said the details of the deal are still being worked out. But aside from a break on its utility bills, some help with recruitment and a chance to take advantage of some existing state tax breaks, it appears that Fisker’s decision to locate here had less to do with government incentives than with the chance to locate in its natural market, and near its offices in Orange County.

Imagine: California getting a pivotal gig just because it’s a smart place to do business. If, after all we’ve been through in recent years, we’ve finally achieved that, it’ll be a real victory.