Is Fisker Automotive on the ropes? Listening to cofounder and executive chairman Henrik Fisker speak at the Economic Club of Chicago luncheon at the Chicago Auto Show this week, you certainly wouldn't think so. In an overwhelmingly optimistic speech, Fisker described his company's ethos and plan to sell green cars around the world.
He wasn't all sunshine and rainbows, though, as he talked about his company to the assembled ECC members and media. Fisker said that the company's first (and thus far only) model, the Karma, was specifically designed to not look like any other luxury vehicle on the market. He admits this choice both limits the appeal and makes a statement, thereby attracting a specific type of buyer. "[The style] means you're going to have a smaller market, because you appeal to people who dare to be different, who dare to show that they are buying a new type of brand, a new type of technology," he said.
Whatever it looks like, Fisker believes plug-in powertrains are the right mix for today's market. A plug-in hybrid with around 50 miles of range can drive without any gas on a daily basis but still take you for long trips on the weekends, he notes. "There is not a lot of demand for pure electric cars, but I think you can see hybrids are on the rise and I think plug-in hybrids will be the next big step," he said. Since he wants Fisker to be a lifestyle brand that doesn't compete with traditional automakers, there are no plans to make a gas-powered Karma (quirky aftermarket Destino venture aside). "We want to stay in a segment where there is less competition," he said, not mentioning the upcoming Cadillac ELR.
"There is not a lot of demand for pure electric cars, and I think plug-in hybrids will be the next big step."
Fisker also astutely managed to not mention Tesla Motors by name, even when he alluded to the company's star vehicle, the Model S. Fisker argues a plug-in hybrid beats a pure electric for many reasons, including a cheaper battery. "When you're carrying around a giant battery, it costs a lot of money on your daily commute and then when you really want to go far, you can't do it anyway. You might be able to go, let's say, 250 miles, but then when you're out of battery, you might need to recharge for a couple days or find a charging station. Whereas our way is, you have a smaller battery and, when you really want to go far, you can go as far as you want."
"You might be able to go, let's say, 250 miles, but then when you're out of battery you might need to recharge for a couple days or find a charging station."
This limitation affects all EVs, he said. "In the pure electric car market, my prediction is we're going to have too many models for too few buyers. And the reason is that every big car company is making one little electric car, mostly to satisfy the overall fleet average," he said. "With plug-in hybrids, there's a lot fewer cars on the market, and I think a lot more buyers."
Speaking of buyers, though, we're still not sure what the status of Karma sales is. Fisker doesn't announce its production numbers, but we can look at the numbers that have been publicly disclosed and calculate out from there. In late 2012, Fisker said his company had built a little more than 2,000 Karmas, and we know that it's been over seven months since any new examples rolled off the line. So, let's guesstimate that there are 2,200 Karmas in existence, and that's all that have been around for seven months. In January, a Fisker spokesman said there was a "sufficient supply" to meet demand. This week, Fisker said his company had sold 2,000 Karmas, but that number has been bandied about for months now. In any case, those steady numbers imply that most Karmas that have been built have been sold and that the "sufficient" supply suggests demand is very low. When asked after the speech when Fisker would start making cars again, all Fisker would say was, "Soon."
"In the pure electric car market, my prediction is we're going to have too many models for too few buyers."