There's no doubt that Tesla is downshifting while Fisker has been grinding its gears. But it wasn't always that way.

In the wake of Tesla's recent success, it's easy to forget that there were once two California electric carmakers with bright futures.

Remember Fisker Automotive?

Both companies were back in the news this week. Tesla confirmed it will team with Panasonic to build a battery factory, and Fisker won approval of its bankruptcy plan to pay creditors and allow it to have a fresh start with Chinese investors, Wanxiang Group.

There's no doubt that Tesla is downshifting while Fisker has been grinding its gears. But it wasn't always that way.

Five years ago, many observers thought Fisker had just as much potential to make a go of it as Tesla. Elon Musk was still known as the SpaceX and PayPal guy who supposedly knew nothing about cars. Fisker, meanwhile, was founded and led by Henrik Fisker, an industry celebrity who designed sexy sports cars like the Aston Martin DB9 and the BMW Z8.

Separated by about six hours of California highway, Tesla and Fisker were billed as the new wave of American manufacturing, two electric carmakers that could do what the Rust Belt-anchored Detroit Three could not. Their rivalry became so heated, Tesla even sued Fisker in 2008 alleging theft of technology, with Fisker emerging as the nominal victor, netting $1.1 million in court fees from Tesla.

As recently as 2012, Tesla only had one car, the Roadster, which was built on a Lotus chassis with an electric-powered motor in place of a traditional engine. It was the definition of a niche product. That year, however, Tesla followed up with another car, the Model S. With an all-electric range of 265 miles and the capability to sprint to 60 mph in 4.2 seconds, the Model S was a runaway hit. It had the size and power of a BMW 5-Series, and it didn't burn a drop of fuel.
While the Model S earned accolades and sales took off, it's easy to forget Fisker got its sedan, the Karma, in the hands of some consumers first, in late 2011. Fisker bought an old General Motors factory in 2009 in Delaware. Tesla did the same thing the next year in California. Unfortunately for Fisker, everything it did first, Tesla soon did better. And after the launch of their sedans, their fortunes diverged sharply. Despite beating the Model S to the market by about six months, the Karma, which could run on all-electric power but also used a four-cylinder engine to charge its batteries, was rife with problems. Fisker collapsed into bankruptcy in 2013, while Tesla became one of America's spotlight companies. Musk has become a transcendent star, and his company's stock trades at eye-popping levels. His onetime counterpart, Henrik Fisker, ended up resigning from his own company.

While the Model S earned accolades and sales took off, it's easy to forget Fisker got its sedan, the Karma, in the hands of some consumers first, in late 2011.

At this point, there is no competition. Tesla won not by beating Fisker head-to-head, but by surviving and carving a niche in the automotive industry as a legitimate player.

Still, there's hope for Fisker, which has ambitious plans for a comeback. Called "The New Fisker," the company says it wants to restart production of the Karma "as fast as possible," though it's still working out quality issues. Fisker also wants to launch some of its models that never made it past the concept stage, like the Sunset convertible, Surf station wagon and Atlantic sedan. This is all aggressive, and it would require serious investment by Wanxiang. But if it comes to pass, Fisker might finally realize some of the success that at one time seemed within reach.

Other News and Views

2016 Chevy Volt to debut as soon as this fall

2016 Chevy VoltWe might as well continue our flashback to the green-car landscape of 2009, and like Tesla and Fisker, the Volt was very much an uncertain proposition back then. Fast-forward five years and it's clear that the Volt--though it was an expensive and all-consuming venture for GM--was the right thing to do. It burnished the company's image at a time when it sorely needed positive publicity, and it's generally been well-received among buyers. It will be interesting to see what the next-generation holds, but it seems likely GM will have to boost the Volt's range and spice up its exterior design. Plus, it should be noticeably less expensive.

Mercedes, Audi small crossovers priced to sell

2015 Audi Q3Pricing was revealed in July for the 2015 Mercedes-Benz GLA ($32,225) and the 2015 Audi Q3 ($33,425). Both come in a tick above the 2015 BMW X1, which is $31,850.

This is the newest and one of the most competitive fronts in the luxury-car war. With prices so close, the success of these vehicles will come down to which brand is more successful at drawing in new customers. Expect to see big money spent on marketing and advertising for all of these vehicles, especially in an effort to lure younger buyers.

Jaguar XE could get 75 mpg (in Europe)

2016 Jaguar XEDon't get too excited, the European test cycle is different, and it won't get close to that here. Still, this aluminum intensive sedan will likely have an impressive fuel-economy rating when it arrives in the United States in 2016, which is perfect timing as fuel economy standards are set to get tougher in the coming years. The XE should do wonders for Jaguar's sales figures.

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    • 1 Second Ago
      • 4 Months Ago
      I thought the main issue with the Fisker was due to the founder/designer not wanting to budge on his design when the engineers asked him to in order to improve the car and make it more cost effective to build.
        Kevin Gregerson
        • 4 Months Ago
        Yes, Fisker took a BMW approach which vehicles are built on the designers direction rather than combination of engineering and designer. Plus, Fisker had a number of crazy requirements like being everything green and recycled. Many of those initial things are now being adopted on other cars. But being first in those worlds is expensive and it showed up on the price which crept up from what was the price of a Tesla up to a volt and a Tesla for the price of one Karma.
      Nine Elements
      • 4 Months Ago
      Tesla seems to win out, as an overall, better engineered car. But for styling, I prefer the Fisker Karma. Henrik seems to be more suited to designing cars like Astons, than to actually run a car company. It took a while for the Tesla S to grow on me. To me, it seems derivative of the best styling cues of Jaguar and Hyundai, with the interior of American flavor.
        • 4 Months Ago
        @Nine Elements
        The Model S concept came out before many of the cars people say influenced it. It's more of a general trend to me more than anything. For example, the hexagonal grille.
      • 4 Months Ago
      The Fisker is an ugly POS, and should have never been made. The Model S is classy, sleek and beautiful. It's no wonder it won out.
        • 4 Months Ago
        Fisker is actually a cool looking car. Tesla is no doubt a better designed car, more cleaner looking and no excess anything. Fisker has its design flaws but the Tesla doesn't. I'd take a Tesla then a Fisker
        • 4 Months Ago
        I see both cars around here, you can see the Tesla was made to move people and to be used every day, but the Fisker is a huge car with a cabin of a small car and tiny trunk.
      • 4 Months Ago
      tesla is running out of rich people according to their quarterly report
        • 4 Months Ago
        Clearly not, as their production levels have increased massively and are projecting at least 10000 more sales this year than last year. Their loss comes from money spent tooling, and developing for Model X.
      • 4 Months Ago
      Fisker needs better engineering. Unless Wanxiang can fix that, they'll just fail again.
        • 4 Months Ago
        It needs to be reengineered in my opinion. There isn't much room in the interior and the powertrain has its problems and a history of spontaneous fires. It looks great, but the car itself needs to be redone.
      • 4 Months Ago
      "it's easy to forget that there were once two California electric carmakers with bright futures." - No, Fisker never had a bright future. _ "Tesla is downshifting while Fisker has been grinding its gears. But it wasn't always that way." - Yes, yes it has. Fisker did everything wrong with the development of the Karma.
      Winnie Jenkems
      • 4 Months Ago
      It's the mustache. The problem has always been the mustache.
      • 4 Months Ago
      I was going to say perhaps Tesla should learn a lesson from Fisker with regard to Tesla's horrific problems on the Edmunds test car, and many others. even Business Week was discussing the awful problems with their drive units, confirming that Tesla is woefully underfunded to handle all of the warranty claims. even if just one drive unit gets replaced per vehicle ($17,000), that wipes out any profit on the car altogether, and puts them in the red. and that does not include any other problems. but "learning a lesson" would require an ounce or two of humility, which Elon Musk clearly lacks. it would be like giving advice to Donald Trump. its impossible to give advice to someone who thinks they know everything. and for those doubters, let me ask one simple question. in the next ten seconds, without the help of Google, name the next two executives under Elon Musk at Tesla. I didn't think so. it would be like asking about Trump's underlings. I personally hope Fisker gets its act together, and works the bugs out. the Fisker interior makes the Tesla Model S interior look like it came from a Chevette, and the recharging motor in the Fisker cuts the power cord once and for all. Tesla Model S owners truly think of themselves as members of an exclusive club, and have those superchargers all to themselves right now. just wait until the "lower classes" get one of the alleged fifty thousand dollar SUVs, and the supercharger stations get clogged for their six and seven hour waits while Model S owners see their exclusive club get blown to smithereens by people with juice boxes and screaming, ill-behaved children. Model S owners really don't care about saving the environment, its just about the status of having one. when that status disappears or gets diluted and the exclusivity goes away, so with the rich folk's electric toy, thrown out like last night's sushi, and replaced by a gasoline powered car.
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