Click above for high-res gallery of the Fisker Karma S

When we sat down with Henrik Fisker during the Detroit Auto Show, he acknowledged that many people didn't think his company would return for a second year. But, as we all saw, the company did return, and did so with a bang with the unveiling of the Karma S hardtop convertible. Braving the economic downturn and debuting a new model wasn't all that difficult, Fisker said, because the aluminum frame of the Fisker Karma is "so flexible, that we can develop a variant of the Karma for very low cost." This first variant, the Karma S, is scheduled for production in 2011. On the money side, Fisker said he never doubted that his company would be back because, "We had a very powerful and strong and displined business plan and we had some very, very sophisticated investors." Those investors include Kleiner Perkins and QIA, the Qatar Investment Authority.

So far, response to the Karma has been strong, with about 1,300 pre-orders already placed. The company should be up to full production - about 1,200 vehicles a month - in the middle of 2010, with 15,000 units planned for 2011.

You can listen to our chat (13 min, 6MB) and click past the jump for much more about the low-cost Fisker and the different trim levels of the Karma models.

As we mentioned, the original Karma will cost $87,900 when it goes on sale. The car offers 400 hp, over 100 mpge (for most people), with four doors and luggage space. Nothing else in the segment comes close, especially when you figure in the plug-in hybrid powertrain, Fisker said. For the production Karma, there will be three trim levels.

  • The base model, which has the solar roof and navigation as standard.
  • EcoSport: costs around $95,000-$96,000 and will have natural leather and premium sound
  • EcoChic: the top of the line model, this one is completely animal-free and uses rescued wood on the interior for just $105,000 (the Karma S on display was an EcoChic model).

How can Fisker get these ready so quickly (relatively speaking)? Fisker said his company had two big legs up against other start-up car companies: one, part of the Q-Drive powertrain already existed in military applications and two, the battery supply company, Advanced Lithium Power in Canada, had been testing the batteries for automotive use for many years. There were other advantages his company had as well.

"First of all, everybody on the team is coming from the automotive industry, and I think that's different than most other startups. Secondly, we have developed an engineering process by integrating a lot of our suppliers but also hired a lot of automotive engineers where we have developed this engineering process that allows us to get to market very fast. It's a very focused process, no changes allowed, and it's 180 degrees different from how any other car company works." "We have created a dream team of automotive experience, and we are doing what everybody would do if they could." The numbers work in his favor, too, he said. The private investors do not want to see a loss, and so the vehicles are not sold at a loss just to promote PHEVs. Fisker said that if they sell 4,000 models, the company will turn a profit.

The Karma models will be assembled by Valmet Automotive in Finland aat the same plant where all the Porsche Boxsters and Caymans are finished. "The reason we chose this factory is because they are completely modern ... and they have exactly the volume we needed and they are the only factory in the world that could meet our deadline to bring the car to market this year," Fisker said.

The timeline until then is that Fisker will make 60 prototypes for the various testing purposes. All the virtual crash testing has been completed, and the final verification is being done right now. Currently there are six Karmas out and about and the company is getting the vehicle ready to pass American and European regulations at the same time; the Karma already meets the 2012 proposed rollover requirements, for example.

By 2012, Fisker could have an entirely new model available for sale. He told AutoblogGreen that, "What we have in our business case right now, ... we are probably going to start in a couple years a lower cost vehicle. It will still be a premium vehicle but it will be a lot cheaper and a lot higher volume."

Fisker said his company is applying for DOE loans for new technology that, if accepted, would cause work on this lower-cost market to start next month. Even without the government money, Fisker said, his company will move forward with this next iteration of the Fisker brand; it'll just take longer. Oh, the anticipation.

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