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.

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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.


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    • 1 Second Ago
  • 26 Comments
      Marcopolo
      • 2 Years Ago
      What really angers the 'green car' crowd, about the Fisker Karma, is it's a luxury vehicle, incorporating EV technology, but not bothering to cater to the opinions of 'green-leftist' philosophy. The Karma is the sort of environmental vehicle Top Gear can understand ! At the other extreme Fisker is hated by those Americans who don't believe the government should provide assistance to industry. Since Fisker buyers, don't care about either of these issues, they are free to own and enjoy a remarkable vehicle, from a new and independent American Auto manufacturer. Gary Witzenburg's fair and objective article, shows why he is not only one of America's most respected automobile industry journalists, but highly regarded internationally !
        PeterScott
        • 2 Years Ago
        @Marcopolo
        It isn't Anger. It's Derision based on shoddy engineering, shoddy software, shoddy build quality. What baffles me is your ongoing cheer-leading for this overpriced POS. Did you invest and are now worried about your cash?
          PeterScott
          • 2 Years Ago
          @PeterScott
          High end Porsche/Maserati? In your dreams. It fails dismally at efficiency, but if you compare it with these luxury cruisers, it fails dramatically in the luxury department. None of these top luxury brands could possibly get away with the kind of dismal fit and finish that the Karma has, none could remotely get away with a crude 4cyl engine powering them. These cars about about exemplary fit and finish, beautiful engine notes and the joy of driving. The Karma is Frankenstein assemblage of dubious components, with outsourced construction. Wtih whatever metric you use, the Karma doesn't stand up well.
          bluepongo1
          • 2 Years Ago
          @PeterScott
          Yeah, on one thread he claimed we were all jealous of his poorly engineered choice; I just LOL. All hybrids have many more points of failure than ICE or BEV; they are not for me.
          Marco Polo
          • 2 Years Ago
          @PeterScott
          @ Peter Scott, I think your problem is that you misunderstand the nature of vehicle like Fisker's Karma. The Karma is not intended to be a super-efficient, Saloon EV. It's not built to save the earth, or even gasoline in the traditional sense. It's not designed, or purchased, to appeal to your standards of what an efficient automobile should be. You are judging the Karma by the wrong values. The Fisker Karma is a 'boulevardeer ' , a GT. The comparison with the Model S, is erroneous ! The only thing they have in common is that they both deploy EV technology. But, even that's an absurd comparison. The Model S is a truly amazing and radical vehicle. Elon Musk designed his Tesla Model S as pioneering EV, to be sold as a substitute for ICE transport. The Karma, is more like a luxury Lexus Hybrid. It's a car that just incorporates some EV technology. As such, it fulfills it's design parametres very well indeed. It's just not a car car built for your expectations of " efficiency". It appeals to buyers who are not really interested in saving money on gasoline. Karma's competition is vehicles like Maserati Quattroporte, Porsche Panamara, etc. (In comparison to vehicles like these, it's a very fuel efficient vehicle !) It's even designed to attract a certain type of person away from Luxury SUV's, (and that must be a good thing !). Fisker is not selling to readers of ABG, it's market is more readers of GQ ! There's room in the market for all types of vehicles employing EV technology.
          Marcopolo
          • 2 Years Ago
          @PeterScott
          @ Peter Scott Your derision has nothing to do with any objective opinion of Fisker. You hate what Fisker represents ! Nobody, well nobody rational, get's so passionate hatingt a vehicle they will never own, simply because it's may have a few defects. You remain silent about Coda, a vehicle with far more faults, very dubious antecedents, and sinister connections. Fisker offends you because it's an affront to your values ! Like 'Bluepongo's' bitter spite toward hybrids, you hate Fisker because it's the choice of pop stars, film and TV actors, the 'A' list, the glitterati, the people you think of as undesrving rich ! The Karma's a car for people who will never care, or hear about your criticisms ! People who have never heard of 'Consumer Reports' ! Fisker is a car for people who value a lifestyle far different than your own. The Karma is designed to be envied. A classic in the making. Fisker has enough EV technology to make all those admiring looks from young females (and males) guilt-free ! It's an car featuring EV technology that a kid can have on a poster on his bedroom wall. It's got sex appeal. Probably, one of the most beautifully designed vehicles of any era was the Jaguar E-type (or XKE). Unfortunately, the Jaguar's build quality at that time was really bad, it's component suppliers were rubbish, but 50 years later a good example is valued at more than 30 times it's original price ! Even replica's fetch huge sums. The Fisker Karma suffers from being a first model, from a new, and heavily overcapitalized US manufacturer. It's odd that all the hatred seems to emanate from American's ! Had Henrick Fisker built the car in Europe, he could have avoided all this nonsense. Fortunately, the mainstream media still love the Fisker Karma, and since the vehicle is aimed at their readers, it will survive and prosper as long as it's fashion lasts. Hopefully, by then Henrik will have designed an equally avant-guarde vehicle. As long as earnest types like you, hate the opulence and lifestyle choices the Karma represents, Fisker will attract buyers ! Oh, btw, I have no investment in Fisker. If Fisker ever builds a RHD Sunset convertible, I would put up with my bank managers hand wringing, and buy one. As Grendal sensibly points out, no one car is right for everyone. It's about choices. The Fisker, like the early Prius makes EV technology fun, and 'cool' for the least likely (and most wasteful) people. Now, that must be a good thing !
          Grendal
          • 2 Years Ago
          @PeterScott
          It's Fisker's first car. Like any new product there are growing pains. As long as they continue to take care of their customers and improve their product I don't see any reason hate the car. People are buying it so saying it's overpriced is a matter of opinion. The problems it has doesn't seem to be spilling over into EVs or other EREVs, so really who cares? How can more choices be a bad thing? I'm not championing the car either. I have no intention of ever buying the car. I do think it's a pretty car, however. If I had $100K to spend, I'd buy a loaded Model S over the Karma. But that is just my choice and my reasons. Why should I dislike someone else's choice?
          PeterScott
          • 2 Years Ago
          @PeterScott
          I had commented on Coda in the recent article before your reply here. I have since posted another, more directly about the car. The thing with the Coda, was I thought everyone agreed it was a heap of junk. I don't generally comment that water is wet. It is a given. First and foremost, the engineering appears weak on the Karma. Perhaps not as bad as the Coda, but playing in a much more elevated space, it shouldn't be a comparison to be considered. I slammed the Coda for it's lackluster efficiency: 73 MPGe vs about 100 MPGe of most plug ins in that price category. The Karma does significantly worse, than even the Coda, with 52 MPGe. I would bet this will set the record for the worse EV efficiency for years to come. This is clearly another sign of poor engineering. What makes even the long tailpipe emissions of an EV so good is their great efficiency. But cut EV efficiency in half and you effectively double the emissions profile ending up no better than a normal non hybrid gas powered sedan. You forgive way too much for the looks, which IMO are no better than the Tesla Model S. http://www.autoblog.com/photos/2012-tesla-model-s-first-drive/ The front end of the Fisker is already not aging well for me. "The Fisker Karma suffers from being a first model, from a new, and heavily overcapitalized US manufacturer." The cars are built in Finland and delivered finished to the USA. Not sure how that qualifies as being a US manufacturer.
      kEiThZ
      • 2 Years Ago
      Where exactly is 'Silicone Valley'?
      transpower
      • 2 Years Ago
      Your test vehicle didn't catch fire????
      GSP
      • 2 Years Ago
      Silicone Valley? That must be LA.
      goodoldgorr
      • 2 Years Ago
      Did they found the reasons why the flooded karmas took fire.
        Marcopolo
        • 2 Years Ago
        @goodoldgorr
        @ goodoldgorr Nope, nor the other three makes that caught fire ! However, here a hint, salt water and electronics are not the best of combinations.
      Grendal
      • 2 Years Ago
      Fisker manages to survive all the PR disasters. Really, good for them. Why not? I'm not going to buy their car but there seem to be plenty that do. If those customers are willing to forgive why should I care? I've never felt bad about Lambourghinis and Ferraris being around. Why not an eco-friendly choice for those buyers? As long as they don't sully the reputation of EV's and EREV's (which haven't seemed to have happened) then why not have them succeed and build a bigger and better company?
      Bobafet
      • 2 Years Ago
      goodoldgorr, now we know that 3 brands lost several cars to fires including Toyota (3 Prius) and Fisker, amongst several thousand flooded. Over 300 + car fires have been reported due to being submerged in salt water for hours / days in NY/NJ/CT. Saltwater/fire/floods/massive-hurricanes are not a Fisker-specific issue, but as usual Jalopnik and the other sensationalist car blogs used the opportunity to smear Fisker as best they could.
      mikeybyte1
      • 2 Years Ago
      It's a gorgeous looking vehicle. But I personally do not find it to be very efficient. It gets 54 MPGe and can only go 300 miles. Yes, you can then fill it up with gas. It also has very little trunk room. To me, that makes it a niche product. Sort of the ultimate "4 door sports car" out there. And there are buyers for that market. Just like people will buy a Ferrari or other sports car. I think the Tesla Model S, now with Supercharger stations going up, is going to be its biggest competitor. People will ultimately compare the two sedans and see that the Tesla beats it on just about every level. Sure you couldn't drive the Tesal cross country, but nobody really does that. I think the difference is the Tesla could be your one and only $100k vehicle but the Karma is really more of a fun secondary sports car.
      • 2 Years Ago
      I own one. Great car.
      Roy_H
      • 2 Years Ago
      "That's the sky-high hurdle that no US auto startup has managed to clear in my lifetime." Tesla is well on the way to proving it can be done. It will be tougher for Fisker, but not impossible. The main advantage Tesla has is IP. They developed their own electric motor, and build their own controller and battery packs. Plus, of course, the gift of a factory from Toyota. Since Tesla has these resources, they have been able to sell motor/controller/battery packages to M-B and Toyota. Fisker has not been able to have this second source of income. I am not sure what they can offer to an OEM, but maybe there is a gem in those 155 patents.
      Archonic
      • 2 Years Ago
      Thank you for not titling this article "At Wiz End - The Fisker Karma"
      • 2 Years Ago
      Where abouts is this "Silicone Valley" located?
        Chris M
        • 2 Years Ago
        LOL! Don't confuse "Silicon", a hard and somewhat brittle material used for various electronic devices, with "Silicone" a delightfully soft, flexible and bouncy material sometimes used for breast implants. Oh, what a diffference a single letter "e" makes! "Silicon Valley" is at the south end of San Francisco bay, includes San Jose, Santa Clara, Palo Alto, Mountain View, Fremont, Cupertino. Almost every high tech company has their headquarters, or at least an office, there. "Silicone Valley" is basically San Fernando valley and the Los Angeles basin.
        Spec
        • 2 Years Ago
        That's down in Southern California .. . the San Fernando Valley where they make all the porn.
          Marcopolo
          • 2 Years Ago
          @Spec
          @ Spec, Really ? How interesting ! I thought Fisker was located in Anaheim, Orange County, but hey, what do I know ? I'm not familiar with the activities Pornographic sex industry as you seem to be.......
          Marcopolo
          • 2 Years Ago
          @Spec
          @ Ezee, Ah,..well.. I'm afraid that my natural antipathy towards pornography showed ! I support America's first amendment, and hate of all forms of censorship . I would never think of imposing my moral values on my fellow citizens. Yet, I find the products of pornography immensely sad, and demeaning to the human spirit. As I say, this is purely a personal view, and I wouldn't condemn others for their pleasures. I am far more opposed to the glorification of vigilante justice and violence displayed in such movies as the 'Lethal Weapon' series, whose message of glamorous law enforcement, justifying breaking the law, for political propaganda, far more detrimental to society, than any pornographic image. Pornography is akin to prostitution, ( legal in my State of Victoria), both seem a sad trades, bereft of spiritual nourishment. But, that's just my opinion.
          EZEE
          • 2 Years Ago
          @Spec
          Someone did ask spec where Silicon Valley is..... Also, due to a case of HBV and faked test results, the porn industry was in the news a bit more recently. Remember, I have friends in the industry, and I have been behind the camera quite a few times, so I won't make fun of spec...
          nosoupforyou
          • 2 Years Ago
          @Spec
          Actually Fisker is located in Anaheim, not the San Fernando valley. It is east of Disneyland. I pass by their building often and commonly see Karmas parked in the employee lot.
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