Occasionally I visit Fisker Automotive’s website to see if there is any news on the possible return of one of my favorite car companies. Usually I am greeted by a website advertising the Karma, Fisker’s first model. The headlines are for something. Today, I visited the site and what I found saddened me. Instead of being greeted by a picture of the Karma and the Fisker logo, I received the error: “Safari can’t open the page.” The site is no longer active.
Since the company stopped production in late 2012, there are a stream of negative comments about the company’s struggles and the flaws in the car every time an article is published about Fisker. The Karma is often compared to the Tesla Model S and Tesla’s relative success. While Tesla does offer a good product, the two companies have very different philosophies and different leadership. Tesla developed its car from the ground up, including the all-electric drive train. Fisker meanwhile partnered with General Motors and used a modified version of the hybrid powertrain found in the Chevrolet Volt. This allowed then CEO Henrik Fisker to focus on the design of the car and further develop the technology provided by GM.
Henrik Fisker is an automotive designer, and a damn good one. Besides the Karma, Fisker also designed the BMW Z8, Aston Martin DB9, and the Aston Martin V8 Vantage. He also had a hand in the design of the Tesla Model S, but Fisker began his own company in 2004. He then partnered with Quantum Technologies to create what became Fisker Automotive. The Fisker Karma debuted at the North American International Auto Show in January 2008. Fisker secured a $528.7 million loan from the Department of Energy in 2009, and everything appeared to be running smoothly. However, the financial situation of Fisker was still not stable and the Karma was delayed a number of times. The car was finally released in late 2011. Fisker stepped down as CEO in 2012 but remained as executive chairman. Things seemed to improve for Fisker in late 2012 when Tony Posawatz, former head of the Chevrolet Volt team, was named CEO, and the company secured $392 million in additional funding. But all went south in early 2013 when Fisker left the company, lawyers were hired to explore the possibility of bankruptcy, and 75% of Fisker’s workforce was laid off. The company filed for bankruptcy in November 2013.
While the Karma has been criticized since the company’s bankruptcy, when the car was released in 2011, it was well received by the automotive press. The Karma offered a lot to like. The exterior design is beautiful with its low sweeping profile. The interior is equally impressive with its high quality materials and a massive touch screen that allows the driver to control every aspect of the car. The drivetrain consists of a 2.0 litre turbocharged I4 and two 120 kW motors. Each of the electric motors produce 161 horsepower and a massive 479 lb. ft. of torque. While the car weighs around 5,300 pounds, the torque of the electric motor pushed the Karma to 60 mph in around 5 seconds. Not bad for a heavy electric car. The Karma did sell fairly well initially, but the company was plagued by money concerns. The Karma has had a few recalls and there was a fire concern, but new models often have issues and electric cars seem to have an issue with fire – ask Tesla.
Since filing for bankruptcy, Fisker has been acquired by Hybrid Technology LLC, who now holds Fisker’s initial loan. The loan was sold to Hybrid at a huge loss to US taxpayers. The resolution of the bankruptcy is eerily similar to the end of the DeLorean Motor Company in the 1980s. The sell of Fisker is expected to be complete on January 3, 2014. Hopefully, the company can return with a viable business plan and begin to produce new Karmas and some of the other models that Fisker was planning.
I believe that the Karma could have been a successful luxury hybrid car with the convenience of the EVer powertrain (extended range). Personally, I do not think the electric car is the future of automobiles. Batteries are heavy, difficult to produce, expensive to replace, and are difficult to recycle. The technology may eventually catch up, but for now, hybrid powertrains are the more useful because you have a conventional gasoline powered engine as a backup power source. Cars like the Model S and Nissan Leaf, are full electric and make long road trip nearly impossible. Even with 250 miles of range, it takes several hours to fully charge the batteries. There are quick charge stations, but quick charging the batteries on a regular basis degrade the batteries more quickly. I can easily drive 1,000 miles per day in a gasoline-powered car. This would be impossible in an all-electric car, but it is not impossible for a Karma or Volt because I can stop and refuel them. Extended range powertrains are the (near) future (along with diesel, but that is another discussion!).
Another factor that attracts me to the Karma is that I have great respect for those who take the risk of starting a new car company. Preston Tucker, John DeLorean, and Henrik Fisker all created product they believed in, and failed. All three of them failed due to financial issue. Tesla has had it share of problems as it developed the Model S, but its owner, Elon Musk, is a billionaire. He can afford to dump cash into Tesla when it was struggling. Tucker, DeLorean, and Fisker did not have that option.
Following the completion of Fisker’s bankruptcy, I would like to see Henrik Fisker return to his company and the Karma go back into production. I believe the car could be success as there is a dealer base and Fisker’s products are only going to improve as the technology improves. Moving forward, a technical alliance between GM and Fisker could be mutually beneficial. Fisker modified GM’s platform and GM is currently developing the next generation Volt. The companies could work together to develop the EVer powertrain and future batteries. In fact, one has to wonder why GM did not step in and offer some assistance when Fisker was struggling.
The Fisker Karma is one of my favorite cars because it was one man’s dream. A concept car that made it to production virtually unchanged. The gorgeous exterior, the usability and versatility of the EVer powertrain, the eco conscious materials, and the dream of one man make the Karma a great car. Sadly, the company could not overcome its financial issue, but in 2014, Fisker may get a second chance. Until then, I would be proud to own a 2012 Fisker Karma…in white!