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.

New to EVs? Start here

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