2012 fisker karma ocean

I finally got to drive a Fisker Karma (great model name!), and found it better than expected. The occasion was the annual Motor Press Guild (MPG) "Track Days" at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, CA, where four Karmas were lined up to be driven by attending media. Not on the track of course, but on the straight, smooth public roads around it.

Three journalists and a Fisker representative piled into the car, and I spent the first several minutes wedged into the right rear seat. Like the rest of the car, it was better than expected ... not especially roomy for a 6-foot, long-legged male, but not uninhabitable. The only major difficulty was extracting my feet from under the front seat when it was time to disembark.

Then it was my turn to drive. The controls and instruments were unconventional but easy to learn and use. The driver's seat was supportive and 6-way-adjustable. The available acceleration, even with four aboard, was strong. Despite the car's prodigious weight, the Brembo brakes were also strong (and fairly linear) when needed, with just a hint of noticeable transition from regen to friction. Can't comment on cornering, since I never got a chance.

The cabin design is modern and pleasing – founder Henrik Fisker is a gifted designer, so likely had much to say about it as well as the long, sensuous, bulge-fendered body) – and suitably plush for the price. Perhaps my biggest surprise was the 2.0-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder range-extender engine's unobtrusiveness when it ran. My only real dislike was the fuzzy velour (actually "EcoSuede") on the dashtop and steering wheel.


undefined

The timing of my drive was good, since just the week before at an Automotive Press Association (APA) lunch meeting in Detroit, new Fisker CEO Tony Posawatz had spoken to assembled scribes. I had known and respected Tony in his former role as a GM vehicle line director and a key leader of its global electric vehicle development program, where (among other things) he was responsible for bringing the Chevrolet Volt from concept to production.

As of early October, Fisker had some 400 employees, 196 suppliers and 79 retail outlets in 16 countries.

He was marking five weeks in this job, and his company had celebrated its five-year anniversary in August. As of early October, he said, it had some 400 employees (98 percent in the US), 196 suppliers (90 US-based) and 79 retail outlets in 16 countries, including 46 in the US. It also had 155 patents and patents pending.

He showed a chart dividing today's vehicles into segments to show where automakers were competing in their march toward electrification. Eighteen were selling gas/electric hybrids, 14 hawking pure EVs and six were offering plug-ins. Of those, only Fisker and GM are currently marketing extended range EVs (which Fisker calls "EVers"), and only Fisker is offering them in the "High-Performance/Luxury segment.

The obvious point of an EVer, he pointed out, was its ability to run on inexpensive grid power with neither "range anxiety" nor "charge anxiety." In other words, can I complete my trip before running out of juice? And if I need a public charge station to replenish my battery, will it be readily available and in working order? Neither is a concern with EVers because their ICE-driven, on-board generators keep their motors spinning once their batteries are depleted.

The role of the $100,000-plus Karma – "the world's first luxury EVer" – is to be sexy to look at, exciting to drive and, at the same time, environmentally conscious. Its motors spin out 403 horsepower and 959 pound-feet of pavement-wrinkling torque. It's EPA rated at 54 MPGe combined gas/electric "fuel" economy, yet it can launch from rest to 60 miles per hour in just 5.9 seconds. Fisker claims it can run up to 50 miles on the battery before the gas four-cylinder fires up (probably not the way we were driving it) and 300 miles total between charges/fill-ups.

Posawatz also pointed out the EVer's signature advantage: its gas/electric infrastructure is already there ... unlike those for BEVs, hydrogen fuel cells or CNG-powered vehicles. This may be one reason why the Karma was the fourth best-selling plug-in on the U.S. market – after the Volt, the Toyota Prius Plug-in and the Nissan Leaf. Its roughly 1,500-unit global sales (at that time) were not much, but more than those for the Mitsubishi i, Ford Focus Electric, Tesla Model S, etc.

"We don't deny that there have been mistakes along the way, but we believe they can be fixed."

Posawatz conceded that Fisker's original plan was overly ambitious and aggressive but asserted that they have been able to correct and recover from it. "We don't deny that there have been mistakes along the way," he said, "but we believe they can be fixed."

The famous Fisker fire in Woodside, CA happened on his second day on the job. He sent a team to investigate, they narrowed the cause down to a faulty component, then quickly replaced that component on every Karma built and in process. "We learned from that issue, and we have a permanent fix in place," Posawatz asserted.

fisker atlantic

He admitted that Fisker will need more capital to get the smaller, more affordable Atlantic developed and into production in its (ex-GM) Wilmington, DE facility. "It's a very capital-intensive business," he said, "but our blend of Silicon Valley and Detroit expertise will prevail. We're well on our way on engineering that car. We'll announce our plan later this year."

He added that the company would love to have a deep-pockets partner. "We have had discussions with potential strategic partners," he said. "What we have in terms of talent and experience will be valuable to other OEMs." And he said that Fisker wants to become a stockholder-owned company at some point down the road.

That's the sky-high hurdle that no US auto startup has managed to clear in my lifetime.

Like rival Tesla and any other startup automaker, the costs are enormous and the challenges formidable. When your venture capital and low-interest government loans run out, you have to be clearing enough profit on sales of current products to finance design, development and government certification (safety, damageability, emissions, fuel economy) of ever-better future ones.

That's the sky-high hurdle that no US auto startup has managed to clear in my lifetime.