Fisker Automotive has hired Joel Ewanick, the former head of marketing at General Motors, as its interim chief of global sales and marketing, the company said on Monday. Fisker informed its retailers on Monday that Richard Beattie, who had been the company’s chief commercial officer, was retiring.
Mr. Ewanick will face the daunting task of building a positive image for Fisker, the maker of the $103,000 Karma luxury plug-in hybrid. The company has sustained a sequence of mishaps since the cars were first delivered to customers last December.
Russell Datz, a spokesman for Fisker, declined to comment on what Mr. Ewanick would encounter. “Anytime you start a car company, you’re in for challenge after challenge,” Mr. Datz said Tuesday.
Mr. Ewanick is a seasoned auto industry executive who has held top marketing positions at G.M. and Hyundai. He is a somewhat controversial figure: G.M. ousted him in July after he reportedly failed to disclose the full cost of a multimillion-dollar sponsorship deal with the English soccer team Manchester United. Mr. Ewanick’s hiring by G.M. in May 2010 was also considered unusual, because he took the position only six weeks after being hired by Nissan North America to head its marketing efforts.
Mr. Datz confirmed that the Fisker Karma has been recalled twice. He said the problems were “small compared to other things that could have happened.” He pointed to competitors that encountered similar problems. “A lot of people forget that the Tesla Roadster was recalled several times, and they had a lawsuit with a supplier, and sales challenges,” he said. “These problems are nothing new.”
Mr. Ewanick, who is not accepting requests for interviews, has been working as a consultant to Fisker for the last few weeks. The company is continuing its search for a long-term marketing chief; in the interim, Mr. Ewanick will serve under Tony Posawatz, Fisker’s chief executive, who is also a transplant from G.M. Mr. Posawatz was named to lead Fisker in August, after serving as the chief engineer for the Chevrolet Volt. The Volt and the Fisker Karma are both plug-in hybrids, which operate mostly like an electric car but use a gasoline engine to extend driving ranges hundreds of miles.
In a company statement, Mr. Posawatz praised Mr. Ewanick for his “wealth of motor industry experience and knowledge to guide us through this interim period.”
Mr. Ewanick’s and Mr. Posawatz’s experience with marketing the Volt should prove useful as Fisker tries to find its footing in the emerging electric vehicle market. The company had planned to produce a second, more affordable family-oriented vehicle, but the project is on hold as the company seeks additional financing. In the meantime, it will need to counterbalance negative stories about the Karma, a sedan designed by Henrik Fisker.
Sales of the Karma were originally scheduled to begin in 2010, but were repeatedly delayed. Soon after its first deliveries in late 2011, the company announced that some of its components were faulty and needed to be replaced. But the most embarrassing incident occurred in March, when Consumer Reports said the Karma became inoperable while being evaluated. To date, Fisker has sold more than 1,500 units of the Fisker Karma, Mr. Datz said.
Despite its technical problems, the Fisker Karma is an attractive automobile, with an A-list of celebrity owners, including the former secretary of State, Colin Powell, the actor Leonardo DiCaprio and the teen idol Justin Bieber.