It's not settled where Fisker will build its first car, the $129,900 EMotion EV, yet. The company is looking to buy an existing factory but hasn't chosen one yet. Henrik Fisker tells us they've looked at a few, but with no hint of pressure in his voice, says, "We don't have to make a decision until the end of the year." Fisker expects to begin producing the EMotion in 2019.
FISKER EMOTION: THE BASICS
The Fisker EMotion is powered by two electric motors, one in the front and one in back, giving it all-wheel drive. Fisker told us the EMotion has "a new type of electric motor that we are working on together with a very large supplier." He said it's efficient, light, and compact, but declined to offer up other details, including output. That announcement will come later.
In terms of aerodynamics, Fisker says there's a limit to what you can do and still make the vehicle look nice. "You can make a pretty ugly car that's very aerodynamic. You probably remember the GM EV1 that was super aerodynamic, but not necessarily a very pretty car. The Fisker brand is about good-looking cars."
Fisker says, though, that there are aero benefits that an electric powertrain makes possible. He was able to lower the front of the EMotion, which he says really makes this four-door look evolved compared to the traditional sedan. With no gasoline engine up front, that lowered cowl also improves the view of the road ahead. Because of its electric layout, The EMotion is able to have its wheels at the very corners, with minimal front and rear overhang. The car features what Fisker calls a "very, very dramatic" functional rear diffuser, which takes advantage of the EV's flat underside. The EMotion also has a small integrated rear spoiler, and airflow around the wheels was optimized without disrupting the car's sculptural look.
With the EMotion, Fisker wants to blend sport with luxury. Again, thanks to the packaging of the electric powertrain, the company is able to create a roomy interior by pushing the windshield forward and the rear window back. Fisker even goes so far as to compare the rear legroom to that of a BMW 7 Series. We'll have to wait for full interior details, as Fisker plans to make further announcements later in the year (which is hard to imagine, looking at the EMotion's exterior, until you notice how far back the rear doors are placed in comparison with the rear wheels).
With more people living and using cars in big cities, low-speed comfort is becoming more important. Fisker intends to deliver on that with the EMotion. As we spend more time driving in a different environment than we did 10 or 20 years ago, Fisker told us, "We have to emphasize in different things [than just driving dynamics] how to have fun driving a vehicle. Part of that will be a whole different interface in our vehicle, which we are working on in-house, to create more excitement, more entertainment." He adds, "In autonomous driving, specifically in stop-and-go traffic, you need to have something else to do." The car should also be fun to drive, and because EVs are so quiet, Fisker is working on ways to "engage the senses" while driving.
The car should also be quick and handle well, especially at $129,900. Other automakers have already proven EVs can be fast, and Fisker is also working on handling. The EMotion's all-wheel drive and low center of gravity (thanks to the battery pack) improve the car's handling. He says the EMotion's carbon fiber rims are 40 percent lighter than aluminum wheels, and the body uses carbon fiber as well, to help make the car light and quick.
The Fisker EMotion's lithium-ion battery pack it uses 21700 cylindrical cells from LG Chem with NCM (nickel-cobalt-manganese) cathode chemistry. To keep the actual physical volume of the battery down, Fisker has created its own cooling system that helps increase energy density. Fisker says the battery pack will offer the highest energy density in the world. The 21 modules that make up the pack sit extremely low in the vehicle. Their thin profile helped Fisker take advantage of the space inside the vehicle, providing that roominess we discussed earlier.
There won't be a variety of battery options in the Fisker EMotion. Every car, beginning with the $129,900 base model, will come with the same UltraPack, offering over 400 miles of driving range. "At least the plan at this point is not to offer it with a smaller battery pack. We really want to show this as the ultimate electric car."
Even if people don't normally drive 400 miles in a day, range is important to the consumer. Fisker asked, why aren't more people buying electric vehicles? He identified range and charging time as two key solutions that would get more people into EVs. The EMotion's 400-plus-mile range should take care of range anxiety, allowing more flexibility to travel longer distances or to own EVs in places where infrastructure is limited (and to make people feel like they aren't giving something up by switching to an EV). That second part of the equation — charging — is where things get really interesting.
Fisker's not happy with the idea of stopping at a destination, such as a mall, where it takes an hour or so to charge (assuming there's a charging point available). Instead, Fisker envisions a new standard of chargers, which he calls "UltraChargers," located at gas stations, that add 100 miles of range in nine minutes. He tells us his company is in talks with big oil companies to install these UltraChargers at their retail locations. While the Fisker EMotion will be an expensive vehicle, it's this charging technology that he thinks will eventually get the masses into EVs. But what is it?
"We are working on this new charging, which is a different type of charging. It's not a cable, and it's not inductive charging. We can't really reveal it yet — we're working on prototypes right now — but I think this could be a new standard where you actually don't even have to get out of the car to charge the vehicle."
Boy, did our ears perk up at that. Without getting into too much detail, Henrik Fisker told us that his company is working on prototypes for this new type of charger with ABB, a European provider of fast charging infrastructure. The EMotion will still be able to use the same types of charging stations we have today (it will use the CCS charging standard), "but we also want to launch it with this new type of charger, which we think is pretty exciting," Fisker said, "and a game-changer."
Interestingly, Henrik Fisker downplayed the idea of autonomous driving during our conversation, despite the fact that the EMotion makes use this technology.
Fisker doesn't think customers are all that interested in sitting and doing other activities while doing 70 miles per hour on an open road. It's the stop-and-go traffic that's frustrating, and that's the problem autonomous driving capabilities help to solve. "That's when probably most people are tending to start playing with your entertainment system or picking up your phone. So, we are really looking at that space to be able to truly take your hands off the steering wheel and do something else."
Not being able to take your hands off the steering wheel when you have autonomous capability, Fisker says, is "like having a passport, but you can't leave the country." Fisker thinks it makes the most sense in terms of safety to offer hands-free driving at low speeds, specifically in a traffic jam on the freeway, where there aren't any pedestrians and any accident would have milder consequences. Like the rest of us, he's unsure how the legislation surrounding self-driving cars will shake out, so he's not leaning too heavily on that aspect of the vehicle to sell it.
SERVICE AND DISTRIBUTION
Fisker has announced a partnership with The Hybrid Shop — which Fisker says will be called "The EV and Hybrid Shop" –— which will service the EMotion. Currently, there are 36 Hybrid Shops. At the launch of the EMotion, Fisker said he expects there to be about 250 in the U.S. Fisker wants to revolutionize that facet of ownership, though, and make it as seamless as possible.
"You can do a lot of stuff over the air, but eventually there are tires that are going to need to be changed, or something's going to happen with the car that needs service," Fisker said. "When that happens, we have a predictive service where basically the car's fully connected with The Hybrid Shop infrastructure." So when something goes wrong, or is about to go wrong, the owner doesn't have to do anything. The car is connected to your calendar, and knows when you won't be using it. It will send you a notification suggesting a pickup time for you to approve. After that, technicians can pick up your car while you're at work using a digital key, service it, and return it to you before the end of the work day.
This is meant to make it easier to live with the car. Fisker says this new service model and self-parking are the best solutions for people who live in big cities — the same people who are more likely to put off buying a car because of the inconvenience.
When a customer buys a Fisker EMotion, either online or at one of the company's planned "Experience Centers," those same Hybrid Shop service centers will be the ones who prepare and deliver the new vehicle. Customers will be able to take a virtual or real test drive, spec and order their car, and a "concierge" will deliver it to them at their home or workplace with everything ready to go, down to installing the customer's various preferences in the interfaces.
LOOKING DOWN THE ROAD
Fisker learned from his last venture and is applying that knowledge to this new one. He tells us that the EMotion will be a lower-volume vehicle, and that making use of advanced, lightweight materials like carbon fiber and aluminum and the like means a lower investment in tooling. "Of course," Fisker said, "it also means the car will be more expensive." He said he wants to use this car to showcase the company's technology, so that it can return later with "a higher-volume vehicle for a much lower cost."
Fisker wouldn't tell us what that next vehicle would be, but he said it would be on a different platform from the EMotion. "We have a very clear idea what the next car will be," he said, "but we don't want to say it yet. But it will be a very affordable vehicle." The costs of batteries and electrical components are a challenge, but he's encouraged by what LG Chem is doing in that regard.
Fisker believes, though, that solid-state is the future of batteries. His company is working on graphene and solid state technology, and already has patents. He's not sure when that tech will be ready for commercialization, but it won't be in time for the EMotion, and probably past 2022 or 2023, he said. "At that point in time, the electric car will be fully superior to a gasoline car in any aspect — price, performance, everything."
Of course, Fisker isn't the only one who believes solid state batteries are the future. Toyota, Kia, and others are working on this technology as well. "I personally feel like we might be one of the ones that are furthest along. We have a great battery chemistry team, and that's something that's kind of unusual, but I really decided that that's one of the areas where we want to spend a lot of effort in-house." Researching and developing battery chemistry, modules, and charging are important to tackle in-house, "because those are the things we have to solve to make the electric car mass-market and superior to a gasoline car."
Henrik Fisker believes that 10 years down the road, EVs will achieve about 20 percent market penetration in the U.S., and more than that in the parts of the world that do more to promote electrification. That's why he's happy to be starting anew with an all-electric vehicle. He wishes Karma Automotive luck with the Revero, but says, "I obviously wanted to move forward and do what I feel is innovative and something for the future." He adds, "When we started the Fisker Karma way back, at that time, the battery technology was still not where we wanted it to be, which is why we chose a plug-in hybrid. I think today we are now far enough that we can get, like I say, that range that at least I would want. I think battery electric cars will be the future."
And because the number of cars on the road is going to increase, they need to be environmentally friendly, Fisker said. Carsharing, ride-hailing, autonomous vehicles, these all transfer usage from public transportation to smaller vehicles with fewer people in them (but on a more direct route). "We will probably have even more driven miles in the future than we have today," Fisker said. And a lot of those miles will be in cars, whether we're the ones controlling them or not.
That's why electric cars are increasingly necessary for a clean environment. "But I also think," Fisker said, "that electric cars need to be fun and cool and desirable." And that's where Fisker Inc. sees itself. The company wants to "make a cleaner environment, but [do] it while having fun. We'll let other people make the boring cars, because I'm sure they're going to be there as well."
WHAT ABOUT VLF AUTOMOTIVE?
Fisker thinks about VLF as a "hobby shop," or a "kid's dream." He told us, "We no aspirations of being a giant car company or anything. It's kind of three guys — Bob Lutz, and Gilbert [Villarreal], and myself — having fun. We don't have any marketing department, you know. We just make the car we think will be cool, and we hope somebody's going to buy it.
He sees the VLF product — low-volume, high-performance, internal-combustion supercars — as "almost like a mechanical watch that nobody really needs anymore, but they're still fun and cool."
"I actually think that in the future, the boring gasoline cars are going to be unnecessary, because you might as well be driven, or drive an electric car when you do your daily commute. But, just like it's fun to have a mechanical watch, it still will be fun to have a sports car where you really interact with the mechanics of the vehicle, and you may only do it on the weekend, for fun. And that's kind of what we do at VLF."
"It's like when you go out and just have a steak without even a salad."
Henrik Fisker left us with some parting words at the end of our conversation. He told us he believes that "America is leading in electric vehicle development," and points to startups in California as evidence of that. "Once the electric car takes off in the mass market, we want America to be the leader in that, because that's going to be the most important technology going forward."