Tesla Model S

It is official: the gloves are off in the war of words between Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk and Fisker Automotive chief Henrik Fisker.

Most of the verbal barbs came from Musk, who sat down to gossip with Automobile Magazine about archrival Fisker. The bad blood goes back a few years to when Tesla unsuccessfully sued Henrik Fisker for developing the Karma while under contract for the design of the Model S – basically paying someone to design his own car.

Another, more newsworthy zinger was when Musk called out Fisker as a smart designer but one who does not understand the underlying technology problem. Musk said:

The fundamental problem with Henrik Fisker – he is a designer or stylist... he thinks the reason we don't have electric cars is for lack of styling. This is not the reason. It's fundamentally a technology problem. At the same time, you need to make it look good and feel good, because otherwise you're going to have an impaired product. But just making something look like an electric car does not make it an electric car.

Fisker has been scrambling to deal with fires and recalls connected to its A123 Systems partnership. Musk's biggest jab was directed at the flagship Karma: "It's a mediocre product at a high price."

So what did Henrik Fisker have to say? In a written response to Automobile Magazine, Fisker stayed friendly, but did throw down the competitive gauntlet: range anxiety. "Obviously, Tesla and Fisker are appealing to two different customer bases with two totally different technologies. Tesla has pure EV and Fisker has a range-extended offering with no compromise on range," he wrote. Zing!

Fisker thanked Musk for giving a nod to the good-looking Karma, which won Automobile's 2012 Design of the Year. He also made a statement to clear up the legal wrangle: Fisker won in court. A judge threw out the case and awarded costs to Fisker.

Both companies have borrowed existing tech to bring their plug-ins to market. Karma needed Quantum Technologies to provide the plug-in hybrid drivetrain and used a General Motors-sourced 2.0 liter turbo four-cylinder engine. Tesla used the Lotus Elise to develop its first car, the Roadster. That said, the sparring judges would probably send more points to Tesla Motors, which sells its battery system and EV powertrain technology to companies like Toyota.