Not The First, Nor The Last Dreamer To Fail



Like DeLorean and Preston Tucker before him, Fisker underestimated the amount of capital it takes.

The departure of Henrik Fisker from his self-named car company adds yet another name to the list of dreamers who thought they could be successful automakers.

Whether or not he goes down in history a Gaston Chevrolet or John DeLorean depends on the current managers at Fisker, with whom Henrik cited as having irreconcilable differences over the future of the hybrid luxury car company.

This is not to say that Fisker's dream is doomed, but the company he founded faces a number of severe challenges to its survival as an independent make.

Like DeLorean and Preston Tucker before him, Fisker underestimated the amount of capital it takes to be in the business. While the business model of having a supplier, in this case, Finland-based Valmet, building a high-priced limited-edition car had merit, in execution Fisker fell short of the mark of meeting expectations. It took far longer than anticipated to bring the Karma to market. Quality problems, issues with battery supplier A123 and the port disaster during Hurricane Sandy that destroyed 300 cars dogged the company.


Matt DeLorenzo is the former editor-in-chief of Road & Track and has covered the auto industry for 35 years, including stints at Automotive News and AutoWeek. He has authored books including VW's New Beetle, Chrysler's Modern Concept Cars, and Corvette Dynasty.



If these setbacks weren't enough, the ambitious plans to build a second lower-priced model, the Atlantic, in the old General Motors' Wilmington, DE, assembly plant, also diverted attention and resources needed to make the Karma a success.

Fisker's approach stands in stark contrast to that taken by Elon Musk and Tesla, and therein lies the difference in where the two companies stand today.

Fisker's approach stands in stark contrast to that taken by Elon Musk and Tesla.

While Fisker has a great auto industry background, he came to the table with virtually no money, relying on others to fund his dream. By contrast, Elon Musk is an auto industry neophyte who happens to be a billionaire thanks to PayPal. While Musk does have outside investors, he wasn't afraid to dip into his own wealth to keep Tesla alive at critical junctures.

The other big difference is in the products themselves. The Karma is what I would consider an outside-in car, as opposed to Tesla's inside-out approach. Fisker, as a designer, penned a beautiful car that, beneath the skin, used a drive system that sourced componentry from existing manufacturers. Tesla, however, began first with its proprietary drive system and sourced its Roadster – the car around the drivetrain-from Lotus, before engaging designers to do the Model S and Model X. Beyond that, rather than relying on other manufacturers for key parts, Tesla has licensed its technology to and has gotten investments from Toyota and Daimler-Benz.



And while Fisker's plans for the Wilmington plant have stalled, Tesla was successful in converting the former GM-Toyota plant in Fremont, CA., over to Model S production using former managers from Toyota.

Without its founder, what then are the prospects for Fisker? The biggest loss and calling card for Fisker is the man himself and his design sense. Both the Karma and Atlantic are distinctive-looking vehicles and whether or not that design legacy can be built upon will be a key to the future success of the brand.

The biggest loss and calling card for Fisker is the man himself and his design sense.

As for remaining independent, given the current state of finances, that's not likely. It had been reported that Fisker was negotiating with the Chinese for either an infusion of cash or an outright sale in order to save the company.

A likely scenario would be Fisker's acquisition by a car company looking for an upscale brand to complement its standard offerings. Fisker is attractive on that score for two reasons. The first is that it is somewhat established in the marketplace with a look that is still fresh. The second would be the fuel economy credits that Fisker can generate thanks to its plug-in electric technology.

Whether or not the current management can find such a partner will be the difference between whether Fisker becomes a mere footnote in automotive history or a marque that endures.


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    • 1 Second Ago
  • 148 Comments
      Brodz
      • 1 Year Ago
      Never a fan of the Fisker's look, but it does have some good lines. I just don't want to see another car company fade away into history.
      JakeY
      • 1 Year Ago
      To be fair to Fisker, Tesla also kicked out their founder Martin Eberhard. However, Elon (a co-founder) had the vision, leadership skills (and money) to get the company where it is today. So Fisker as a company is not necessarily doomed if the CEO and board can see it through (it's critical they get the Atlantic to market, the Karma clearly isn't selling well). However, Fisker's situation sounds more similar to Aptera (the founders hired a Detroit guy as a CEO and was then kicked out). Hopefully, the company doesn't end up the same.
        Lynchenstein
        • 1 Year Ago
        @JakeY
        Aptera has a really cool-looking concept, then with each iteration it got more awful looking and more conventional. I wonder what the actual production version would have looked like. A Prius? A monkey?
      Tom
      • 1 Year Ago
      This article is excellent and puts things in perspective nicely.
      Vermillion002
      • 1 Year Ago
      Ford, Lincoln, ... Fisker? Ford MoCo is certainly lacking in the high-end, high-margin department, and the styling could fit the group nicely.
        purrpullberra
        • 1 Year Ago
        @Vermillion002
        I'm right with you on the Lincoln idea. (We must have been typing at the same time). Would you want them to move that EREV tech down the line or keep it just for the halo status? Probably doesn't matter.
      Jaclock LaGlock
      • 1 Year Ago
      And take your stupid electric cars with you.
        bluepongo1
        • 1 Year Ago
        @Jaclock LaGlock
        Stupid= Posting a comment that shows you don't know a hybrid from an electric.
        Grendal
        • 1 Year Ago
        @Jaclock LaGlock
        Never driven one, have you? So you're really just hating on the unknown.
        William Flesher
        • 1 Year Ago
        @Jaclock LaGlock
        Typical. A one line comment using the word "stupid". I'm sure everyone who WORKED to teach you language and comprehension skills is incredibly proud, and breathlessly awaits your contributions to advancing personal transportation. You're BEAUTIFUL.
          Jaclock LaGlock
          • 1 Year Ago
          @William Flesher
          Not everyone sees this as an advancement. As an automotive enthusiast, I see it as a step backwards. Vehicles like this sucks the soul out of real inspired performance and the driving experience. To me, vehicle are more than just a wheeled appliance that gets me to the grocery store. My vehicle is an extension of myself. It's a source of passion. I like to be fully engaged in the automotive experience. This means that I'm under the hood tuning the engine. It means, I'm tweaking the suspension. It means I'm fully engaged from the gas to the clutch. Broadening that experience is what I call advancement. Subtracting from it (as these vehicles do) does not in my opinion qualify as advancement.
        Jaclock LaGlock
        • 1 Year Ago
        @Jaclock LaGlock
        Ha! You people are funny. I doubt anyone who neg'd this comment was lining up to buy one of these. The truth hurts right? I need more negative votes!
          ckm
          • 1 Year Ago
          @Jaclock LaGlock
          Funny enough, people who race cars actually LOVE electric vehicles - The reason is simple, you can actually hear what is going on with the tires/road/etc.... Something which is impossible in gas powered cars. And, although I agree with you about driver involvement, sometimes, quite frankly, I'd rather not have that much involvement, I just want to get from A to B. And that is what most people want, just to get from A to B and electric cars can do that far, far better than most gas powered cars for the vast majority of journeys people take. Tesla and other electric cars are not designed for you, a niche market segment, they are designed for the average driver. Just like minivans & SUVs are not marketed to enthusiasts.
          Grendal
          • 1 Year Ago
          @Jaclock LaGlock
          You are afraid of difference and change, jaclock. You've never driven an EV so you really don't have any way to compare against what you do know. That's why you see change as a threat. The truth hurts right?
      Greg
      • 1 Year Ago
      Fisker (the car) deserves to fail. How many different ways does it catch fire? How awful (and incomplete) is the infotainment system? How stupid is that ugly mustache? How sad is it when the only other thing you are known for is a chromed model driven by bieber? It's a car built entirely around style, completely lacking substance, and even the style isn't appealing.
        Rochester
        • 1 Year Ago
        @Greg
        >> It's a car built entirely around style, completely lacking substance, and even the style isn't appealing. Exactly. That sums it all up in one fragmented sentence.
      Eric
      • 1 Year Ago
      It's a shame that some praise the fact the he failed. I think we should be happy to have people who take risks, especially when they're from our continent and countries (I'm Canadian). These are the visionaries, the people that put resources into our economies. I hope they do not fail. How amazing would it be to see Tesla or Fisker the next power house in the world car market!!! Anyways, just my thought :)
        Scr
        • 1 Year Ago
        @Eric
        But he did it with MY MONEY. If you want to try something experimental, good for you! I wish you luck. But don\'t use taxpayer\'s money to gamble with. Fisker did it, as did his battery supplier, A123, who was just sold to the Chinese. So, in essence, the US taxpayer funded Chinese battery technology. And the idiots in our government let it happen. Oh, wait, they own the US anyway with the trillions we owe them in debt.
          William Flesher
          • 1 Year Ago
          @Scr
          Your money? What a laugh! I suppose you'd like a refund of the pennies that represent YOUR personal loss. I suggest you check between the sofa cushions of less desperate and bitter friends. You might come up with nothing, but he payoff will likely be bigger. Plus, you can enjoy the massive satisfaction of EARNING that pocket change after taking a risk!
          raughle1
          • 1 Year Ago
          @Scr
          Investment in strategic innovation is one of the (many) things that separates successful societies from mediocre or failing ones. Most such investments don't turn into successful products, but each results in some contribution to our knowledge. Most of the military technology we have that keeps us (and much of the world) safe, for example, falls into this category. I, for one, am glad to see us investing in innovation through private companies rather than inefficient public institutions. What a strange time in our political history that the party of business and commerce wants to dance on the graves of dreamers and innovators while the supposed socialists take the risks to invest in private companies to forward our great nation's geo-political interests.
      rjen164497
      • 1 Year Ago
      The only business government understands is printing and spending money we don't have. Look at government. No business experience. Business runs a free country. Government runs dictatorships. We are being run by a dictator. Open your eyes, it is only going to get worse. Count the regulations you encounter today. There is one other person living off your back . Half the people in America collect from the government.
      • 1 Year Ago
      [blocked]
        Grendal
        • 1 Year Ago
        Dan/Giza TSLA is a volatile stock. Day traders and option buyers can easily cause spikes like these on absolutely no information. There has been no negative articles or any news other than the standard stuff. In fact a number of major players have TSLA on their "buy" list. That doesn't mean or prove anything though.
          Grendal
          • 1 Year Ago
          @Grendal
          You and I are in agreement on your assessment. Maybe Fiskers leaving did have an effect on TSLA. There was no other news. I also agree that Musk is an all or nothing kind of guy.
        purrpullberra
        • 1 Year Ago
        It must be said that only someone who is mentally retarded would keep citing just 2 days of stock price drops. Grendal has no idea why the stock moved as it did on those 2 days and is smart enough to tell you, nicely, that you continue to be stupid by acting like you can. Your grasp of modern day financial facts is shocking in that while you use language a knowledgeable person would you routinely let pure BS flee from your lips. Keep it up, I love killing your stupidity with my facts and true words. :P
          • 1 Year Ago
          @purrpullberra
          [blocked]
        Trim
        • 1 Year Ago
        Big short coming in the summer sell off...should be interesting to see just how deep. With respect to A123, most don't realize that the orginal design used 26700 LiMnO cells from Eone. Investors drove the A123 switch.
      larry
      • 1 Year Ago
      Anything Obama invests American taxpayer money, will fail. Count on it. He was sent here to ruin America. Look at his track record. Tesla, Fisker, Solyndra, A123 batteries, and numerous others. nough said !
        spannermonkeyuk
        • 1 Year Ago
        @larry
        Enough said, but not enough read! Fisker got a loan under a scheme founded by the Bush Administration, and Obama's government actually cut them off.
          spannermonkeyuk
          • 1 Year Ago
          @spannermonkeyuk
          @Mike: I'm hoping that you're being sarcastic? If not, try Googling 'ATVM program', and learn how you're factually incorrect on both fronts. Then again, why let facts get in the way of a strong ideological rant, eh?
          Mike
          • 1 Year Ago
          @spannermonkeyuk
          Bovine Scatt and a lie. It was all Obama's $455million loan to pay back a bundler.
        Grendal
        • 1 Year Ago
        @larry
        And no doubt there are hundreds of companies that are doing just fine under government loan programs. It very easy to point fingers at the ones that have failed because the opposition revels in every single one of them. However, the numbers are actually on par with the private sectors ability to choose "winners and losers." The numbers of companies that have failed are less than ten percent. That's a 90% success rate. It not so fun to talk about that. The reality is that most of those programs also came from the Bush era. But again, it's not quite as controversial to point that information out. You see, the GOP likes to spend a lot of your money too. They just advertise that they don't and point fingers at the left.
        m_2012
        • 1 Year Ago
        @larry
        One problem, Tesla is successful.
          brotherkenny4
          • 1 Year Ago
          @m_2012
          As are Ford and Nissan who also received ATVM loans. All told, 8.2 billion in loans with the Fisker percentage being 2% of the money loaned to the four recipients. The rest (98%) appears likely to be paid back. It's seems likely that the long term economic benefits will more than offset the small percentage spent on the Fisker loan, if in fact they do fail to pay back the loan. Which we don't know yet.
        • 1 Year Ago
        @larry
        [blocked]
      Rade
      • 1 Year Ago
      Why do you say "fail". Failure would be if he didn't try at all, if he sat on his ass and criticized from afar how thing should have been done...that's bullshit. The world is a better place because he tried something new, something that wouldn't have happened without his "failure". The internet peanut gallery is so quick to piss on anybody for trying something new...what sad, sad lives some people lead.
      jfa1177
      • 1 Year Ago
      Oh come on, Fisker was doomed from the beginning, even before Fisker Automotive was founded. He failed as a 'coach-builder' which should have been a big enough hint to not start a car company from the ground up. The Karma was designed as a gas powered luxo barge but when he couldn't find the funding it magically became an EV. He sure duped a lot of people including the bumble-heads in Washington. He's no different than the hucksters at GEM who scammed the bleeding heart tree huggers out of their money except that he was a 'designer.' I use that term loosely.
        • 1 Year Ago
        @jfa1177
        [blocked]
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