Fisker Automotive Insider: It’s Not Over

By · April 11, 2013

Fisker Karma

Fisker Automotive, the maker of a $100,000 sleek plug-in hybrid, might be moving toward bankruptcy, but the company still has a future. That’s the message conveyed by a former Fisker employee with knowledge about the company’s operations, in an exclusive interview with PluginCars.com.

According to the source, media reports depicting Fisker Automotive at a permanent dead-end are based on unsubstantiated information about negotiations with China-based companies vying to buy the company. Stories were leaked in order to devalue the company and drive it into bankruptcy, so an acquiring company could get a better deal.

“Why would you buy the company before bankruptcy and pay top dollar, when you can pay bottom dollar for the same stuff?” said the source, who asked to remain anonymous due to ties with the company.

The source characterized Henrik Fisker, the company’s co-founder, as persistently proud of the Karma—despite mixed critical reviews and technical glitches. “He never stopped believing in the viability of the product.”

According to the source, it took everybody by surprise when Mr. Fisker left, a step he took only after he believed that he could not affect positive change for the company. “He wanted distance himself from the decisions being made.”

The former employee added, “Don’t count out Henrik Fisker. We haven’t seen the last of him.”

The testimony offered in the interview, if taken at face value, represents a defensive posture. It could also be interpreted as revealing a critical weakness at the company—an entire organization dazzled by the beauty of an expensive sports car, yet unable to see and avoid the daunting roadblocks facing any automotive start-up company, especially one introducing a new vehicle platform with new advanced technology.

Undercurrent of Negativity

The source said that sales were negatively impacted because shoppers didn’t want to buy a $100,000 from a company that was portrayed as on the brink of closing. Based on the interview, for much of Fisker’s history, the viability of the company has been undermined by factors unrelated to the vehicle it sells or the company’s operations. The politics have been “very nasty.”

“When you’re labeled a loser company by a presidential candidate, when you are trying to do something innovative, brave and forward-thinking on behalf of the U.S. taxpayer, it beats you down,” said the source. “It’s hurtful on a personal and corporate level.” The former employee believes that 99 percent of the American population first heard of Fisker Automotive during the 2012 presidential debates, when Mitt Romney disparaged the company, strictly for political gain.

“Why would you criticize a company trying to put an American company in the lead in terms of automotive technology? Fisker was trying to put us back in the lead again, and we were constantly getting hammered for tying. There was no support for the home team.”

The former employee painted a picture of a devoted staff of several hundred employees, working against all adds (and with great personal sacrifice) to create a new breed of American automobile company—built on homegrown ingenuity, engineering prowess, design expertise, and hard work. The entire company was deeply concerned about repaying its investors and lenders, including the nearly $200 million it received in low-interest government loans.

What’s Next?

The source described Tony Posawatz, the company’s current chief executive (and formerly the line director for the Chevrolet Volt) as “talented,” but that he “got more than he bargained for.” Upon arrival in August 2012, Posawatz had to immediately switch his focus from the engineering of a future more affordable follow-up Fisker vehicle to the company’s financial problems. “He’s never been a C.E.O. before.”

The source would not speculate about what’s next for the company, only to repeat that Fisker employees put every ounce of effort to making the Karma plug-in hybrid a success. “After all the kinks were worked out, the Karma is a phenomenal car. There’s nothing else that looks like that, nothing else with that kind of technology in it.” The source put the Karma in the same category as the Aston Martin Rapide or Maserati Quattroporte, “but with better fuel economy than a Prius,” repeating a line often used by the company to market the vehicle.

Comments

· · 1 year ago

Sounds like the Black Knight in Monty Python's Holy Grail

· · 1 year ago

"But it's just a flesh wound" . . .

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zKhEw7nD9C4

Seriously, though, I don't wish ill will on any EV manufacturer. But I'd be, perhaps, a little more sympathetic if it wasn't one making 2.5 ton PHEVs luxury land yachts.

· · 1 year ago

I don't see much of a point to Fisker as a brand anymore. Without Henrik and his design talents why bother continuing on? The Karma is comprised of technology borrowed from other companies so the only thing the Karma ever had was its own unique design. So what is there beyond the Atlantic, a company called Fisker without Fisker and a powertrain they can only continue to tweak unless they partner with someone who can help them improve their future tech. I just don't see any strength in Fisker Automotive or something substantial worth saving.

· · 1 year ago

I guess Bill Howland is on vacation huh? :-) jk, Bill.

· · 1 year ago

Oh come on there's no delusional weakness in the company's view of itself. If only you journalists would go to FiskerBuzz and talk to the owners you'll find out owners love their Karmas for similar reasons people love Apple products. The weakness of the company was they couldn't get this message out and overcome the delusional bias and daily internet beatings amongst all the skeptics educated in silly Republican talking points about companies taking government money being losers. That would cover lets see, the entire defense industry, the entire highway construction industry, most of Maryland and Northern Virginia ... who did I forget?

Yes auto bloggers and journalists you're to blame for copying one another's skeptical reviews while completely missing how owners who weren't scared away from the dealers (and have enough money for these beauties) end up loving their car. Many owners on Fisker Buzz report retiring or selling their Aston Martins, Maseratis, Porsche Panameras, etc.

· · 1 year ago

@Karma Lover - I gave a part of one paragraph, out of a dozen in the post, to raise some concerns about the ability for an automotive start-up to succeed. The rest is giving full voice to a gung-ho Fisker supporter. Are you saying that journalists should not be skeptical of positive opinions expressed by automakers about the products they sell?

· · 1 year ago

You're right Brad this is one of the most sympathetic Fisker articles in a long time so thanks for that. But I still think their failure was in messaging to press and customers, not believing too much in their product -- why didn't we get frank, sympathetic material like this from their PR person during the election? They needed a dose of Elon Musk style sparring to defend from the hostile press.

I do however believe that the auto journalists in general failed to appreciate the car precisely because it did not fit in their existing categories, especially Consumer Reports not being accustomed to reviewing cars in the > $100K sport luxury class. I'm quite jaded watching sites like Jalopnik root weekly for Fisker's failure as they incessantly report ugly photos of the two Karma fires. These are American jobs and investments at stake and half the country is driving this technology into the hands of the Chinese just to prove an ideological point about budgetary policy.

· · 1 year ago

Karma Lover wrote: "These are American jobs and investments at stake and half the country is driving this technology into the hands of the Chinese just to prove an ideological point about budgetary policy."

So what exactly technology are we talking about here? Do you mean the A123 battery or the GM supplied Engine or the off the shelves AC Induction motor/controller unit?

Oh, you mean the exterior design...

· · 1 year ago

@ModernMarvelFan, So hybrid control systems, inverters, generators, rear drive modules, chasis a unique spaceframe design and others are not enough. GM buys battery packs from other manufacturers. OEMs share engines all the time. You are pretty ignorant.

· · 1 year ago

@Brad Berman Thank you for writing something positive and giving a voice to all the people that passionately believe in this company.

EVs will only be a niche market until there is adequate infrastructure in place to support EV only vehicles. The automotive buying public is not ready to subjected to limited battery range (even 280 miles is limited) and long charging times. Therefore we NEED EVer technology to help get electric vehicle embraced by the mainstream automotive buying public. Range anxioety will ALWAYS hold EVs back from being embraced and Super Charging Stations is not the only answer. Keep hating on Fisker but they are much more correct and advanced than you think.

· · 1 year ago

pavelgoesgreen wrote:

"ModernMarvelFan, So hybrid control systems, inverters, generators, rear drive modules, chasis a unique spaceframe design and others are not enough. GM buys battery packs from other manufacturers. OEMs share engines all the time. You are pretty ignorant."

Hahaha. So, you are telling me that Fisker designed inverters, generators and rear drive modules? BS!!! They are nothing more than standard off the shelves parts. It is commonly available everywhere else. Standard IGBT and Power MosFETs. Nothing unique in its IP. Hybrid control system is nothing more than a SW controlled "series hybrid". That is nothing worthy an IP.

Unique spaceframe design is sure nice, but you got a 5,000lbs car with a COMPACT interior space. So much for that so called "advanced" spaceframe design.

Maybe you care to list all the patents that Fisker has?

You should get youself an engineering degree before you call me igorant.

· · 1 year ago

@ ModernMarvelFan:

Why do they have to design all new technologies to be game changing? If this stuff is so common why is there only one other company (Chevy Volt) using EVer technology. This technology is allowing Karma drivers to get at worst 20MPG and at best over 400MPG. Can you name any other Luxury Sedan that gets anywhere near that? The answer is no one, yet. Now there are other companies get there EVer's out there because Fisker blazed that trail and looked damn good along the way.

You knocking them because they didn't create the technology necessary to do this and give them no credit to having the foresight to put this all together is where you are ignorant.

Just curious, have you ever even sat in one? Have you ever experienced what it is like to drive one? Have you experienced the type of looks and attension that this car brings from all types of people? My guess (and this is simply my guess) is that you have not but you did read a few articles about the car and its technology and now you consider yourself qualified to criticize them.

· · 1 year ago

The failing of the Fisker Karma, gdude, is probably too complex to sum up for a single reason. But at least part of it was because of missteps out of their control. In addition to a bad economy and bashing from the anti-green political right, they had the bad fortune of accepting a large production batch of A123 cells that were defective and having to make a major recall. This certainly slowed down their momentum in getting working cars to the market. Now, of course, there is more than just the Volt as an alternate PHEV. If they're not here already, any number of higher end OEM brands - notably Porsche, Volvo and Mercedes - already have (or will have shortly) PHEVs available.

Tesla also had to fight an uphill battle to establish themselves as a newly established auto manufacturer. What they are doing (ie: staying purely electric) may have seemed like a bigger gamble as little as a year ago. But they really have it all to themselves in the pure EV luxury car market now. Had they done the "safe" thing and made yet another upscale PHEV, this "it's not over" article may have very well been written about them.

Joking aside from the Monty Python Black Night quips that start this thread, I'm sorry to see any electric car effort falter. The ones that get the most sympathy from me, though, are the up-and-comers that are (or were) building lighter-weight everyman scaled pure EVs (ie: Think, Aptera, etc.) It's harder to find larger OEMs building EVs like that . . . whereas a prospective Fisker Karma buyer might just as easily get the same level of technology/luxury/style from, say, the Porsche Panamera S E-Hybrid or the Cadillac ELR.

· · 1 year ago

@Benjamin:
whereas a prospective Fisker Karma buyer might just as easily get the same level of technology/luxury/style from, say, the Porsche Panamera S E-Hybrid or the Cadillac ELR.
Except, the Panamera and Cadillac are both hideous. :-)

Seriously, I wanted to like the Caddy (I wanted to like all of their new line, not just the ELR), but they keep making the front ends so ugly. It's the same problem I had when considering the Acura SH-AWDs. (Have been looking around at new car options, not necessarily a PHEV, for some years now. Can't do full EV yet because I live 360 miles away from one relative and there are no charging stations between there and here.)

· · 1 year ago

I agree, Chris, that Caddy grills are simply horrible. They really haven't changed them since 1969. I can't look at any Caddy and not think lime green leisure suits and cigarillos.

But, c'mon . . . look at that toothy smile on the front of the Karma. It's face is like an automotive version of The Joker staring down The Batmobile. Nice curvy lines otherwise.

The Panmera S? It's the only one of the bunch I really like the looks of all the way from front to back. But that's just me.

If I lived 360 miles from a relative that I would want to visit regularly with no EVSEs in between and needing to haul 4 people to and fro, I'd seriously consider getting a private's pilot license and buying one of these . . .

http://www.extremetech.com/extreme/127981-the-chevy-volt-of-airplanes-th...

I note it's current stated range is 300 miles, which might not do it for you today. But with better batteries on the way . . . hmmm . . .

Meanwhile the electric airplanes I fly these days look more like this . . .

http://i1089.photobucket.com/albums/i358/BeninTucson/Capacitor%20Free%20...

· · 1 year ago

@BString

No vacation just up all night finishing my taxes.

· · 1 year ago

Modern Marvel Fan has been sticking up for everything I say lately so in fairness I should stick up for him.....

I liked the Kharma enough to test drive it twice, and while I had my doubts about a few things being unfinished, its a very nice car. And anyone who is skeptical about it or too "anti-utilitarian" should physically LOOK at the thing.

Yes its a big boat but its "only" 1000 lbs more than a Volt. All the young movie stars want one, and people swarmed around it at the Buffalo Auto Show. What can I say? We impress easily, same as Hollywood Stars.

· · 1 year ago

@Benjamin Nead

"......If I lived 360 miles from a relative that I would want to visit regularly with no EVSEs in between and needing to haul 4 people to and fro, I'd seriously consider getting a private's pilot license and buying one of these . . .

http://www.extremetech.com/extreme/127981-the-chevy-volt-of-airplanes-th...

I note it's current stated range is 300 miles, which might not do it for you today. But with better batteries on the way . . . hmmm . . . "

In the article they said 200 miles for $20, so assumedly 300 miles for $30. So that's around 240 kwh. But several of the commenters said the battery was more like what I have in my Roadster (53 kwh), which is believable since its only 900 pounds.

Are we sure this isn't VaporWare? If it isn't then SOMEBODY STEAL THAT BATTERY!!!! Sounds like 1000 mile driving range is just what I need for my roadster for my next trip to South Bend and back.

· · 1 year ago

it may very well be vaporware, Bill. I simply did a web search for "electric private plane" and this one year old article came up. I guess the point is - if you are needing to make a 300+ mile trip and want to do it electrically - it might be worth investigating the idea of electric flight. There are already an electric 2-seater, the Yuneec E430, that has about a 90 mile range . . .

http://yuneeccouk.site.securepod.com/Aircraft.html

Also in the "real" category is the little balsa item I also linked to in that post That's a nice rubber powered Free Flight design from the early 1950s, the Could Tramp, that is flies beautifully with 4 strands of 1/4" wide rubber wound to about 600 turns.

The one you see there was eventually modified to run a geared electric motor powered by a 2.7V / 5 Farad supercapacitor. The results were less than satisfactory, but I had fun watching it putt around for about 15 seconds a few feet off the ground. The more conventional approach would be to substitute the supercap for a tiny 10mAh LiPoly battery.

· · 1 year ago

@ Benjamin Nead:
If they're not here already, any number of higher end OEM brands - notably Porsche, Volvo and Mercedes - already have (or will have shortly) PHEVs available.

That was my point none of these have hit the market YET, but the Fisker came out late in 2011 (after being pushed back almost 18 months). That is foresight and innovation. ModernMarvelFan was trying to minimize Fiskers impact in EVer technology because they didn't have a pattent on something that already existed. They did put it all together in a great looking car.

BTW, I have to disagree with you on the Panarmea's looks. I dislike the way the back looks.

· · 1 year ago

Well, and that's my point, too, gdude. You may not be able to walk into the Porsche/Volvo/Mercedes dealerships today and get those high end PHEVs, but you can bet they'll be there soon. While Fisker has (or had?) more dealerships than I thought . . .

http://www.fiskerautomotive.com/en-ca/discover/retailerlocator

. . . they aren't as ubiquitous as the aforementioned larger OEMs. If Fisker didn't have the A123 battery woes, it's a story that might have had a different (happier) ending.

Interesting article here on the MIT Technology blog about comparing Fisker with Tesla. I'm afraid, though, that it more or less coincides with what Modern Marvel Fan has been
saying . . .

http://www.technologyreview.com/news/513151/why-tesla-survived-and-fiske...

It's not so much that I'm personally down on Fisker or actively wishing them to fail. I'm simply indifferent to big hyper-expensive grand touring sedans, whatever the power source. Other than the batteries, I'm not even all that interested in the Tesla S. When that company starts making smaller and more affordable real world EVs, my ears will perk up.

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