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Bankruptcy judge orders auction for Fisker Automotive

Fisker Automotive’s Fisker Karma, a sports luxury plug-in hybrid car, was displayed at the 2010 Los Angeles Auto Show.Damian Dovarganes/Associated Press/File 2010

WILMINGTON, Del. — A Delaware bankruptcy judge on Friday ordered a competitive auction for the assets of Fisker Automotive, rejecting a proposal by a group led by Hong Kong billionaire Richard Li to assume control of the failed electric auto manufacturer in a private sale.

US Bankruptcy Judge Kevin Gross refused to accept Hybrid Technology LLC’s plan to use $75 million it said it is owed as Fisker’s senior secured lender as a credit bid for Fisker’s assets.

Agreeing with Fisker’s official creditors committee that a competitive auction was the best way to maximize recoveries for Fisker creditors, Gross capped Hybrid’s credit bid at $25 million.

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Chinese auto parts conglomerate Wanxiang Group Corp. had offered an alternative cash bid of $35.7 million as the starting point for a competitive auction, contingent on Hybrid’s credit bid being eliminated or capped.

Pin Ni, president of Chicago-based Wanxiang America Corp., had no immediate comment on the judge’s ruling, saying he needed to talk to attorneys.

In a separate bankruptcy case, Wanxiang recently purchased Fisker’s former battery supplier, A123 Systems of Massachusetts, which is now known as B456 Systems Inc.

Caroline Langdale, a spokeswoman for Hybrid, said in an e-mail that the company was ‘‘deeply disappointed’’ by Friday’s ruling.

‘‘Despite the court’s decision, Hybrid will participate in the auction, as we still feel Hybrid represents the most competitive and viable bid for Fisker’s future,’’ Langdale said.

In a strongly worded order issued in advance of Friday’s hearing, Gross took Hybrid and Fisker to task for trying to ram through their proposed sale ‘‘at break neck speed.’’

‘‘The debtors’ bankruptcy is a tragedy for many while the purchaser tries to purchase the Fisker assets using discount dollars,’’ the judge wrote, referring to Hybrid.

‘‘United States taxpayers, Delaware taxpayers, employees, unsecured creditors are all losers. The emergence of another very interested, cash-paying suitor, Wanxiang America Corp., may enhance creditor recoveries and shows the mischief from undue speed.’’

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