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Green car startup Fisker aims to secure foreign partner in weeks

By Deepa Seetharaman and Paul Lienert

DETROIT (Reuters) - Fisker Automotive has received serious offers from at least three overseas automakers willing to invest in and partner with the cash-strapped U.S. hybrid maker, which hopes to finalize a deal within weeks, people familiar with the matter said.

Potential suitors for the green-car startup include at least two Chinese automakers and one European company, two sources said. Fisker is hoping to sew up a deal by mid-March, another source said.

Fisker is looking to raise between $200 million and $300 million, and sources said it could wind up forming a strategic pact with two or more partners.

"The company has received detailed proposals from multiple parties in different continents which are now being evaluated by the company and its advisers," Fisker spokesman Roger Ormisher said in an email. He declined to comment further.

A strategic pact would give Fisker the funds to build its second model, the Atlantic plug-in hybrid. Such a deal is also important to gain favor with investors after a string of recalls and financial setbacks cast doubt on Fisker's survival.

Over the past several months, Chief Executive Tony Posawatz and other Fisker executives have met with several investors and automakers, particularly in China. Executives met with officials from several Chinese automakers, including Dongfeng Motor <600006.SS>, Geely Auto <0175.hk> and Beijing Auto , sources said.

Officials from those companies were not immediately available to comment.

The company has also held discussions with Wanxiang Group, China's largest auto parts maker that has since purchased bankrupt U.S. lithium-ion battery maker A123 Systems , Fisker's primary battery supplier.

ATLANTIC SEDAN IS CRITICAL

The search for financial backers comes after a tough 2012 marred by the rocky and delayed introduction of Fisker's first car, the $100,000-plus Karma, A123's bankruptcy, and an election that turned the U.S. government-backed company into a political punching bag.

The Atlantic is critical toward restoring Fisker's image. The family sedan, which Fisker showcased at the New York auto show last year, is expected to start at around $55,000 and be Fisker's high-volume model.

Fisker planned to use the bulk of a $529 million line of credit from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) to build the Atlantic at a Delaware factory previously owned by General Motors Co .

The loan was awarded to Fisker in 2009 as part of an Obama administration program to spur advanced vehicle development.

But Fisker's plans were uprooted after the DOE decided to freeze the loan last year, citing delays in the Karma launch. Sources said Fisker is now running very low on cash.

DOE officials have been a part of Fisker's ongoing search for a partner, the sources said. The agency has expressed its desire to keep Atlantic production in Delaware, as has Fisker.

Finding a strategic partner and building the Atlantic would lay the foundation for the company to stage an initial public offering.

"Certainly, without a doubt, it is our desire to prepare the company to be a public company," Posawatz said during a speech in Detroit last year.

Fisker's strategy echoes the one followed by electric carmaker Tesla Motors , which has partnerships with Toyota Motor Corp <7203.T> and Daimler AG and went public in 2010.

(Additional reporting by Norihiko Shirouzu in Beijing; Editing by Mary Milliken and Paul Tait)

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