Why Fisker Karma Gets 20 MPG on Gas: 5,300 Reasons

By · October 20, 2011

Fisker Surf

The Fisker Surf: a station wagon variant of the Karma targeted for production in the summer of 2012. (Jim Motavalli photo)

The ultra-cool, ultra-green Fisker Karma plug-in hybrid is now on sale, and when operating on gas gets…20 miles per gallon? Yes, that’s what the EPA will put on the Karma's window sticker—although you wouldn't know from reading Fisker's press release about the EPA rating, which only talks about the sedan's all-electric mileage equivalent. The major reason for the 20 mpg has to do with weight—the Karma tips the scales at approximately 5,300 pounds.

Some of the Karma’s other EPA numbers aren’t exactly overwhelming: 52 miles per gallon equivalent (MPGe) when driven by the dual electric motors. The battery range is officially 32 miles—not the 50 Fisker has been touting. The company announced a combined and unofficial 67 MPGe figure in 2009.

Looking for Trouble

The conservative media has its knives out, looking for a follow-up story to Solyndra. As you recall, that's the can't fail solar company that failed and left taxpayers holding the bag. Fisker got $529 million in federal loan money, hence the comparisons. The big difference is that Fisker could be said to be under-performing, but it isn't going bankrupt. Instead, the company is actually launching a car.

The Karma may well have better range than the EPA suggests. Henrik Fisker, the company’s CEO and namesake, opined, “We firmly believe that most owners will get up to 50 miles of driving range on a single charge, and will use our electric-only mode most of the time they drive the car.”

Fisker’s spokesman, Roger Ormisher, sees it the same way. He says that more than half of Americans travel less than 32 miles a day, so they’re going to be driving mostly on battery power. And he thinks that customers are mileage figures in keeping with other upscale hybrids. The 2012 Mercedes S400 Hybrid, for instance, gets 21 mpg combined. “This is a luxury sports sedan, not a LEAF or Prius,” he said. “It’s filled with advanced technology.” It also does zero to 60 in 6.3 seconds.

Ormisher also cites a figure of 188 grams of carbon dioxide per mile. Since Europe cares more about greenhouse emissions than the U.S., such figures are usually given in grams per kilometer. Ormisher said the Karma doesn't have European climate certification yet.

Slimming Down

The obvious solution to get better numbers than these is to slim the Karma down. Ormisher says that the car already uses a lot of weight-saving aluminum, so the best way to drop the pounds rests with the heavy battery pack. He didn’t have a weight figure for the battery, but it’s quite likely that tech improvements can indeed make it smaller and lighter. That’s a longer-term play, however.

As it happens, the Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI) is launching a “Reinventing Fire” campaign aimed at greening transportation, with a key point aimed at “light-weighting” cars. Greg Rucks, an RMI consultant, told me that building cars with carbon fiber composites offers “a dramatic leap in light-weighting without compromising safety.” This the "hypercar" approach that RMI’s Amory Lovins has been promoting for decades (with little commercial results).

Carbon fiber is expensive, much more so than aluminum, but BMW is betting heavily on the material for the i3 “Megacity” electric car it’s debuting in 2013. The company is buying the material from partner SGL Automotive Carbon Fibers in Moses Lake, Washington, and shipping it to Germany for the i3. BMW is so bullish on carbon fiber it’s also reportedly interested in taking over SGL, which is a German company. VW, which has shown a very light carbon fiber-based diesel hybrid, already owns an eight percent stake in SGL.

Customer Cars in November

Fisker’s last hurdle is getting the Karma certified by the California Air Resources Board (CARB), and Ormisher thinks that will happen within a week. In the meantime, the car can be sold everywhere but California.

Some 39 of the first cars, of 200 or 300 built at the factory in Finland, have arrived at the port of Newark. All the early vehicles are going to patient dealers for use as demonstrators, but Fisker has also delivered a few cars to celebrities, including former Secretary of State Colin Powell, actor Leonardo DiCaprio and Ray Lane, a Kleiner Perkins Caufield and Byers partner (along with another Fisker customer, Al Gore, who hasn’t received his car yet). Kleiner Perkins is a multi-million-dollar investor in Fisker, and Lane said last summer that the company “has the potential to be the same value as [FarmVille creator] Zynga.”

If it’s too heavy and performance is compromised, the Karma may not be able to get through the door to big profits. Few people have actually driven the Karma, but I’m guessing it won’t be a letdown on the road, and there’s a consumer base ready to be blinded by its aggressive good looks and supercar acceleration. No one complains about the fuel economy of Ferraris (but nobody expects them to be green, either).

Fisker has 1,300 depositors, and they’ve waited through several delays. Those folks will start seeing deliveries in November. That’s when the rubber really hits the road, and the heavyweight Karma is finally off the show floor and on the market.


· Anonymous (not verified) · 2 years ago

Last two paragraphs appear to be borrowed from an article written more than 2 years ago. There's more 3,000 depositers currently.

· Anonymous (not verified) · 2 years ago

39 waiting in newark for 1/2 billion dollars & this is not a solyndra?

· · 2 years ago

This car makes the Volt look good by comparison. The volt has more range and better gas mileage and costs a bunch LESS.

The Tesla Model S has better performance, no oil changes and no spark plugs to change. The 300 mile range model also has a purchase price that is LESS than this car.

I predict this car will be gone and out of biz in a year or less.

· · 2 years ago

@Anonymous (not verified) ·

Karma is an exotic car. The loan (which hasn't been disbursed) is to build a cheaper car. Not for Karma.

· · 2 years ago

I agree with kjd. The Tesla Model S seems far more compelling, and even with 320 miles of EV range, is in the same price range. Maybe Fox News has a point here...

· · 2 years ago

@kjd · "This car makes the Volt look good by comparison."

Hmmm ... why would you compare a chevy with Karma. Afterall you don't compare a Chevy with Merc.

A lot of specialty car manufacturers have survived. It all depends on Fisker's second act. Will they be able to execute on their Nina ?

· Anonymous (not verified) · 2 years ago

Having a large battery pack AND an ICE/generator is why the car is overweight.. Getting rid of the ICE and ancillaries is the obvious solution!!

· Nick F (not verified) · 2 years ago

I was disappointed when I heard the mpg numbers, but to be fair to them this is not some economy car. It's more Aston Martin than Chevrolet.

The critical thing is does it displace oil? I think the answer is still yes since most, or a high percentage of all the owners will be using electricity to propel it most of the time. The people buying it will be so rich that they will likely have solar panels so it really does have a good chance of stopping a lot of oil being used over it's lifetime.

· · 2 years ago

EVNow said "why would you compare a chevy with Karma. "

Because they are both new designs, and they are both plug in hybrids. I also drove a Volt for a day and found it to be a much nicer car than I expected. Much better than any Chevy I have ever driven before.

With the Karma at 5300 pounds it looks to me like a poor design and the numbers bear this out. It also shows how overpriced the Karma is.

If you want to compare expensive cars only then compare it to the Tesla. The Tesla is better looking, more efficient and it makes a clean break with the oil addiction. If I need to travel more than 300 miles in a day I will buy an air line ticket. It appears to me that the Tesla really makes the need for a gas engine a non issue.

I will also say that I have no intention of buying a Volt or a Karma. I am on the waiting list for a Leaf and will buy one as soon as the local dealer has them available.

· jim1961 (not verified) · 2 years ago

I suspect the extra weight is only partially to blame for the inefficiency of the Karma. Compared to the Volt the Karma uses 85% more fuel per mile in CS mode and 81% more kWh per mile in EV mode. The Karma weighs roughly 40% more than the Volt.

· jim1961 (not verified) · 2 years ago

I hate to get all political but I feel the need to respond to this statement.

"...The conservative media has its knives out, looking for a follow-up story to Solyndra..."

Not all conservatives are anti-EV so it might be a bad idea to generalize. Besides, I don't worry about anti-EV publicity because it will ultimately backfire. In show business they say all publicity is good publicity especially if it's free publicity. In fact, I hope for a HUGE controversy over EVs that gets more people talking about plugins. When the average person hears that the Karma gets "only" 52 MPGe they might ask, "52 MPGe is bad? Compared to what?"

· · 2 years ago

Pretty nice car! Very fascinating!

· Herm (not verified) · 2 years ago

Still, 5300lbs for a sports car, the tires that can take that must be incredible.. any guesses on how much the ICE and its systems weigh?, 500lbs would be my guess.

Then again does it really matter if it weighs 10k lbs and has 6 wheels once you recharge it with solar power?, there is no environmental guilt with this thing.. if you worry about that kind of thing. You dont have to be a communist to be green, yes its common but it does not have to be that way.

· Anonymous (not verified) · 2 years ago

I think all of the media should have their knives out when the government gives a car company $529 million and they outsource the jobs to Finland. (A fact you somehow failed to mention).

· · 2 years ago

Not just the conservative media are buggin' over the Karma. Good Morning American ran a story about it today, talking about how the manufacturing jobs created for the Karma are in Finland, not the US.

You can watch the report, and read the full text (which does explain that loan money was not spent paying Finish workers) here:


· Anonymous (not verified) · 2 years ago

"there is no environmental guilt with this thing"

That is an incorrect thought. Energy has to come from somewhere. It's not free. Wasting energy for no apparent reason still causes harm to "sthg." That's what "conservation of energy" really stands. Be in from coal plant, or even solar. Wasting energy means more electricity or gasoline that could be used for sthg else, being wasted. Don't forget, there's wear and tear on the energy supplying infrastructure too. The goal in being green here is - use wisely.

Having said that, I'm guessing that Fisker didn't really test the vehicle using the actual vehicle, but prototypes that don't have heavy leather seats, solar roof, infotainment system, insulation system, AC, etc. or even just simulation tests on engine itself, hence ignoring steering (not sure if it's drive by wire), suspensions, driveshaft (it's RWD, so intrinsic heavy unless engine mounted at back like Porsche) etc. Whoever simulated the situation in either case forgot to include the weight of those components. In addition, there maybe other cost cutting measure to ensure profit margin (since price have already been raised a couple of times, I think).

This one is probably being categorized as good strategy, poor execution in my book.

· · 2 years ago

"it's RWD, so intrinsic heavy
Clearly, you are well versed in classic ICE automobile design but you might not want to get too locked into ICE paradigms.

RWD is only heavy because of the necessary long, strong driveshaft. Remember that the Fisker Karma is a serial hybrid. All that needs to go from an ICE in front to the wheels is a big wire, assuming the electric motor is located close to the drive wheels.

Everything is different with the electric drivetrain!

· AlexofSB (not verified) · 2 years ago

Lot's of comments, but little substance when it's mostly all conjecture. I have driven one and it was awesome. Felt like a vault - solid, quiet and handled very well around the streets and on the Santa Monica freeway. Had four adults in the car, all were comfortable and cool. Try that in a Tesla. Fisker is right. When I take delivery next month the majority of my trips will be less than 30 miles, so it'll be a long time before I will have to visit another gasoline station, thank you very much!

· Crazy Al (not verified) · 2 years ago

I've converted my go kart to Electric.
Never want to go back to an ICE on my go kart.

Now, I've started plans on doing an Electric Car Conversion on my Mercedes-Benz. My trips usually exceed 32 miles so I'll be planning to put more batteries in mine.

· Chris T. (not verified) · 2 years ago

As anonymous wrote in the first comment, they have roughly 3000 advance order deposits (of $5k each). Clearly, many are not happy about the repeated delays and the miss on the target numbers, so they might lose a few along the way, but they still do have 3000 advance orders.

As for the weight, and relatively low efficiency, remember:

- It's a Luxury Liner. These are generally pretty heavy.

- It has enormous (and very sticky) wheels: 22 inch rims with specialty tires. No low-rolling-resistance stuff here. For $6k you can get steel winter rims (21 inch) and winter tires (I'm going to need those myself, if I take the plunge). (Incidentally, replacement tires are at least $400 each and one is likely to need them pretty often—budget appropriately!)

- As a start-up trying to scrounge up parts from suppliers, Fisker had to make at least a few compromises. The gasoline engine is a the 2-liter turbocharged engine off the old Pontiac Solstice GXP (the "LNF" version: see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/GM_Family_II_engine for details). This got a only little over 20 mpg in the Solstice, which is considerably lighter; plus, Fisker had to derate it a little for noise control, at the last minute, and I suspect this hurt the EPA test results. (No idea how much effect it will have on real-world mileage. The EPA test system for these kinds of hybrids is obviously somewhat off, given that Volt owners report substantially higher real-world gasoline-mode mileage than the EPA estimate.)

- The other big compromise they had to make, of course, was outsourcing production of the vehicle. With a boutique-size run planned (7 to 15 thousand per year), there are not too many places in the world that were interested. Hence the Valmet facility, which turns out Porsche Boxsters in similar numbers (6 to 8 thousand per year in the North American market, up until the bottom fell out on that particular item).

All in all, it's a very attractive car for $100k, provided you're willing to spend $100k on a car (any car!) in the first place. I'm seriously considering it, to the extent of including space for it in my house remodeling project now underway. Another option is to wait 2+ years for the Nina, which will have a much less compromised gasoline engine (BMW's supercharged) and should benefit a lot from reduced battery pack weight (this last is an assumption on my part).

· Anonymous (not verified) · 2 years ago

The Tesla Model S might be an alternative sometime but you can't buy one yet and the true performance will be undetermined until it's available and we don't know when or really if it will be.

· Anonymous (not verified) · 1 year ago

Can one get this car in Right hand Drive ???

· One Day old Fisker Karma owner (not verified) · 1 year ago

I took delivery of my Karma yesterday afternoon. Drove it home to my home in the mountains outside of Las Vegas, picked up my wife and went to a broadway play in town, drove home for a total combined milage of 58 miles. The last ten miles the car converted to the on board gas generator to finish my travels. I plugged it in, but due to the late night and my early departure, and not having the 220 charging station installed, used the 110 charger which needs 11 hours to fully charge the car only had time to charge to 28 miles. I drove down the mountain which provided a GAIN of 8 more miles as the Karma generate MORE power on the down hill drive to bring my city driving to a total of 36 miles for the day! Wow, I gained energy vs. the normal gas car loss! Once at the office, I plugged into a normal wall socket to bring the car up to the total mileage of 50. Drove all the way home and plugged back in for the next day. My total gas expense, maybe one third to one half gallon of gas! Say what you what about this car but for me, to drive a sexy high performance car that gathers complements everywhere I go and I drive by the gas pumps I'm more than good!

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