Why The Fisker Karma Was The Wrong Car At The Wrong Time

By · April 19, 2013

Fisker Karma />

Think back to 2007, when the war on terror was in full swing, the housing bubble had yet to burst, and venture capitalists couldn’t get enough of green tech startups. And a small automotive company was founded in by automotive designer Henrik Fisker and his business partner Bernhard Koehler.

From the start, Fisker Automotive had grandiose goals: to build and sell a luxury plug-in hybrid sports sedan. The car was supposed to be first plug-in hybrid for people who loved cars, not just the planet.

Fast forward just six years, and Fisker is struggling to survive. As Gigaom reported last week, it owes its landlord $174,000 in rent for the month of April alone, and more than $535,000 in website design fees.  And that’s before you take into account the Federal Lawsuit it’s facing for violating the Warn Act and laying off 160 of its workers before Easter without the mandatory notice period.

It's the Car

It would be easy to echo the analysis of many industry observers who believe Fisker’s is attributable to a confluence of issues: lack of tech-based intellectual property, the wrong choice of A123 systems as its battery company, natural disasters, and a touch economic climate.

Of course, these problems occurred. But the tougher reality of Fisker's shortcomings is much more simple: the Karma isn’t an early-adopter’s car.

Missing the Market

Around the time of Fisker’s founding, Chris Paine’s influential film Who Killed The Electric Car?  and Davis Guggenheim’s An Inconvenient Truth had been on general release for nearly a year.  Any car which burned gasoline, unless it was a hybrid, was an incarnation of Satan.

Unlike the Tesla Roadster, which offered all-electric sportscar performance to card-carrying EV fans, geeks, playboys and the Hollywood elite, Fisker tried to market its car at a different demographic: car fans, the Dow Jones elite, the 1-percent crowd.

Fisker Karma

The Fisker Karma has an exclusive interior, but what about the gas mileage?

While Fisker picked up its share of famous customers—including teen pop sensation Justin Beiber and Two and a Half Men star Ashton Kutcher—Fisker generally failed to get EV fans excited.

One of the big problems was the Fisker Karma’s paltry gas mileage. In fact, when the EPA released the Karma’s official gas mileage figures in October 2011, the EV world started to laugh.

Then there was the sticky problem of range, exacerbated by its 5,300 pound curb weight: even with 20 kilowatt-hours of lithium ion battery pack on board, the Karma was given an electric-only range rating of 32 miles per charge.  And those extra pounds certainly didn’t help its performance either.

Next came the problem of calculated and actual gas mileage. Using the its controversial miles per gallon equivalent formula for plug-in cars, the EPA pronounced the Karma achieved just 53 MPGe when in electric-only mode. With the battery pack empty and only its 2.0-liter, turbocharged engine providing power, that dropped to just 20 MPG.

That’s less than the 6.0 liter, V8 engine powering the 2013 Chevrolet Silvarado 15 Hybrid.

EVs Should Be Efficient

The Fisker Karma is certainly a great looking car. But its target market of buyers seeking green credentials were scooped up by the more capable and equally handsome Tesla Model S. It proved that an electric powertrain alone is not enough. The vehicle must be efficient. And for the exclusive clientele that wasn't really that concerned about the environment after all, they could simply stick with established prestige automakers, like Porsche, Mercedes-Benz, or Bentley, rather than gambling on an unproven company with lots of problems.

Comments

· · 1 year ago

The problem with Fisker is the fact that the car doesn't have much of its own IP. Its engine is NOT unique. Its battery is NOT unique. Its electric motors are off the shelf. Even its "blockdiagram" designed isn't all that unique. Plus the heavy weight, crampped interior, heavy price tag and poor initial quality reputation basically ended the Karma before it had any chance...

· · 1 year ago

Sorry Nikki, this time you are really off base. Why?

I have a Tesla Roadster in generally a poor area. I'm in Buffalo Ny, and I'm the ONLY new Roadster owner between Cleveland and Ithaca (I'm excluding Toronto, Ontario because its a different country and its much richer). There are *NO* roadsters in Rochester ( A well to do town, in general ) nor in Syracuse.

Doan Fisker (a Rochester Area dealership, where I test drove the Karma twice), tells me they've sold 8 of these in the local area so far, ( 1 in the syracuse area, 1 near buffalo, and 6 in the greater Rochester area). Seeing as one or two thousand of these thngs have already been sold, they would have been quite a popular car.

As I say, at the buffalo auto show people swarmed over this car more than any other I had seen, and I was there for several hours. It has eye appeal.

I have no reason to doubt appeal would be much different in other areas of the country. This car is priced in the same neighborhood as my Roadster, however it is obvious to even the the more cursory examination that it is and would be much much more popular than my Roadster.

· · 1 year ago

Err, no reason to doubt demand would be any different, and the car is more popular than my roadster.

Also, the car is relatively efficient most of the time on battery (40-50 miles supposedly).

Since it doesn't run that often the lack of gas efficiency is not so big a problem, even for a purist. For a well -healed consumer, its not a problem at all.

· · 1 year ago

@Bill, the biggest difference between the Tesla Roadster (Tesla's first car) and the Fisker Karma (Fisker's first) is the Roadster performs like a sports car should and is a great electric car at the same time. The Fisker Karma is only a pretty face, I test drove the Karma twice as you did and though I found it drove superbly for the looks and price it was slow, the touch screen was hard to see and use, and both the back seats and trunk were ridiculously small given the size of the car. Looking at driving performance alone the Karma should have been developed to be a little faster then the average BMW but you could be out accelerated buy a 1-series, whereas a Tesla Roadster can out run some super cars. So I think those who bought a Fisker bought it for the looks and a little recycled tinsel ( the wood trim and glass dust in the paint) and that's it.

· · 1 year ago

Fisker Karma or Tesla S? I think most people will choose Tesla S...

· · 1 year ago

@CDspeed

What you say is at the same time true and not relevant... Why?

The 1964 Ford Mustang was a HORRIBLE car. Relatively expensive for the room, and second worst back seat ever (second only to the Chevrolet Monza) .

GM initially didn't think Ford would sell any to speak of.

You still want to tell me horrible cars don't sell?

OH , by the way, the Tesla Roadster (I'm allowed to comment here since I own one outright) is not that great handling a car. The only 'sports car' things it excels in are 0-60 mph, and looks. But then the much cheaper Lotus Elise hasn't cracked any mirrors yet either due to ugliness.

@ModernMarvelFan.

Buffalo is different than Oakland. The Roadster is truly a 4 season vehicle in most climates as advertised. A model S will perform exceptionally well by you. As I've posted earlier, A model S is only a 3 season vehicle near me, and I've come down hard on the Fisker Karma for being an unfinished design. I possibly should not have been quite so critical of it in view of Model S operation in locales such as mine. Tesla's warranty policy for the "S" is much worse than for the Roadster if you are not near their service centers. And you will need service. I've been told by Tesla about 100% of those faddish door handles have had to be replaced under warranty, for instance, at least after being exposed to very cold weather. Supposedly the limited edition "signature" models have been the most trouble-prone.

· · 1 year ago

In my opinion, the thing that doesn't appeal about Fisker motors is that it seems they have no future, no plans, no new cars, it seems like only at startup they were enthusiastic and after a while lost their horses :)

· · 1 year ago

@karoliopc

Actually, that's not quite accurate, they were planning the smaller, lower cost "Atlantic".

But I will say that a bunch of silly and unbelievably dumb errors (everyone knows, or at least used to know, you don't put pennies in your fusebox, for instance) that seems to have inflicted a flesh wound.

Fisker himself getting into a battle with his company for whatever reason, and leaving in a huff (I don't know who is to blame here, but in general I'd give Heinrich the benefit of the doubt), probably is the final mortal wound.

· · 1 year ago

I never liked the car from the start. When I first heard it was going to be a hybrid and not a full EV, I lost almost all my interest. Then when I saw the designed I was shocked how unappealing it looked, I could not believed this guy was a car designer. So I was not surprised at all what is happening. I hate to be so negative about any business startup but I have to be honest about it.

I am starting to warm up to the volt though, seems GM has done a superb with that car.

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