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Fisker's sexy Karma hybrid will begin production on March 21 and ship to customers soon thereafter.  (Source: Fisker Automotive)
Fisker appears back on track and following in the footsteps of Tesla

For better or worse Tesla Motors Inc. pretty much provided the blueprint of how to start a successful electric vehicle company -- have wealthy donors fund an initial corporate launch; gather venture capital; seek government grants and loans; launch your vehicle; achieve profitability; launch an IPO to raise more capital; use government loans and venture capital to make the jump to large production numbers if desired.

Fisker Automotive seems to be following a similar path to success, though its road has been a bit rockier.  Now with the impending launch of the sleek Fisker Karma plug-in hybrid electric vehicle (PHEV), let's take a look at the past present and future of this company and its flagship vehicle.

I. Hype and Inflated Expectations

Fisker, much like Tesla was founded by an iconic figure.  While Elon Musk built a fortune off of internet startups like Zip2 and PayPal, Fisker's founder Henrik Fisker built a reputation design sleek sports cars, such as the Aston Martin DB9, Aston Martin V8 Vantage, and BMW Z8.

Founded in 2007, Fisker rapidly raised a couple hundred million in venture capital and secured a $529M USD loan initiated by the Bush administration U.S. Department of Energy and finalized in 2009 under the Obama administration.  With a sexy hybrid, dubbed "Karma", in the works, Fisker was lauded as Tesla's key rival.

In reality this might have been a bit of an unfair role to place Fisker in, though it seemed happy enough to play along.  Tesla Motors had been founded four years earlier and was only able to launch its Roadster after years of delays and losses.

Unsurprisingly, Fisker began to show similar signs, and some in the public began to write it off as another startup bust.  The release date was originally slotted for 2009 at a price of $80,000 USD.  Then last year Fisker said it would be ready to produce 15,000 EVs this year, priced at $87,500.  Clearly it missed that mark.

II. Success at Last

Still, Fisker appears to be turning the corner.  It has a solid relationship with battery supplier A123 Systems in Watertown, Mass. who will be providing it with production battery packs.  By contracting virtually every component of its vehicle to other companies (e.g. General Motors designs the door handles) Fisker has cut its development costs from $1B USD to $333M USD, and cut its development time from 5 years to 2.5 years.

And the Fisker Karma PHEV is at last complete.  At a recent press event Fisker showed off the attractive luxury sports sedan on the track.

Now it has released more details about the upcoming launch of the completed vehicle.  Production will begin March 21 and vehicles will begin to ship and sell in either March or April.  The final assembly will take place at contractor Valmet Automotive in Finland.

Actual production numbers are likely to be nowhere near the 15,000 Fisker originally promised; the U.S. government expects 1,000 Karmas to ship this year.  Still, the public seems eager to buy the vehicle -- the government has had to close a pre-order program it was ordering after over 3,000 customers placed $5,000 USD reservations for the vehicle.

The price point at the vehicle was bumped to $95,500 USD in December and that appears to be official price it will launch at.

While Fisker won't make the 15,000 vehicles a year mark this year -- the point it says it needs to achieve to become profitable -- it's a very real possibility for next year.

III.  The Vehicle Itself

The final version of the Karma sports a 50-mile all electric range and can accelerate for 0 to 62 miles per hour in under 6 seconds.  The vehicle has power aplenty.  Its twin electric motors produce 1,300 newton meters (960 lb-ft) of torque, more than the 1,250 N·m (920 lb-ft) mustered by the Bugatti Veyron.

The vehicle sports an estimated 50-mile all-electric range.  It gets approximately 50 mpg after that, with a gasoline generator feeding current to the twin electric motors.  The total range is expected to be similar to the 2011 Chevy Volt -- around 350 miles.

Billed as the "world's first luxury plug-in hybrid electric vehicle" the Karma offers some slick perks, such as a solar panel roof.  Like the roof on the Toyota Prius, it provides power to the in-cabin electronics.  But its higher-quality panels also provide enough juice to provide 4-5 miles of extra range over the course of a sunny week of driving.

But probably the biggest thing the Karma has going for it is looks.  The Porsche/Bugatti design heritage is clearly apparent in this vehicle's gorgeous lines.  While the Roadster 2.5 is certainly a good looking electric vehicle, the Karma may be the best EV on the road, helping wash away images of the bulbous Volts and LEAFs from the minds of the public.

IV. The Future

Top venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caulfield & Byers and New Enterprise Associates this month valued Fisker at $600M USD and gave the company an additional $150M USD in venture capital funding.

Some expect a initial public offering of stock to be in the works and arrive shortly after the first run of vehicles finishes.  States Scott Sandell of New Enterprise Associates in an interview with VentureWire, "[The company has] potentially a huge return in a fairly short order. … Tesla is worth $3 billion. … The public markets want a few more of these. I think it could be a blockbuster IPO."

Fisker will face stiff competition from Tesla, but its lower price, longer range, design heritage, and different category (PHEV v. BEV) should help differentiate it from its foe.

Fisker, like Tesla has mass-market aspirations.  It's currently working on something called "Project Nina", which looks to launch an entry-level luxury sedan priced at $47,000 USD and delivered in higher volume.  That vehicle was originally to be released in 2012, but if the Karma's history is any indication, that date may slip to 2013 or later.

Still, Fisker seems to have a clear roadmap ahead of it to achieve profitability and then take the plunge into the red to reach the mass market.  And while it and Tesla have a bitter legal history (Tesla claimed Fisker stole its technology and used it in the Karma, but lost the suit), Fisker has Tesla to thank for illustrating the path to success (and convincing venture capitalists of the validity of that path), in some regard.



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Bad Karma
By theBike45 on 2/25/2011 2:12:07 PM , Rating: 1
Tree huggers will have to answer why the Karma turns on its gas engine when the driver selects "Performance mode."
That business about 900 pound feet of torque was obviously written by a novice - with that much torque, it wouldn't take 8 seconds to reach 60 (6 in perfomance mode). That figure is the maximum torque the motors can produce, but the Karma has a tiny battery pack that can't produce anywhere near enough juice - not even in performance mode.
This car has horrible mileage when running on its gasoline engine. This car has all the characteristics of the crappy Chevy Volt except it 1) looks much better, and 2) costs more than twice as much. It is a horribly complicated mechanical beast (like the Volt) but, unlike the Volt, will still have some value 5 years from now. And that "extra range" advantage claimed over the Tesla Model S is an illusion - the Model S will sport a 300 mile range optional battery pack and 45 minute recharge, which is actually faster than the Karma's recharge time for its measly 50 miles. The Model S runs circles around the Karma
and has tons and tons of more space and is very attractive
and costs about half as much. The Karma doesn't represent any kind of advancement in automotive technology - the Model S will change the world. That's my prediction.




RE: Bad Karma
By BZDTemp on 2/26/2011 11:37:12 AM , Rating: 2
I'm sorry but there are so many things wrong in the rant of your it almost hurt.

1. When talking about torque the figures are always about what the engine brings. When considering what torque means for acceleration gearing is also a factor and the Karma has one gear.
2. What the battery pack can produce is not about size but about configuration. I think the Fisker people made a good compromise.
3. You can't compare to the Volt as the configuration of the Karma is different. In the Karma the combustion engine is not connected to the wheels it's making electricity so it's being run much more efficient as if were to drive the wheels.
4. The Model S 300 mile range you talk about is with a great big battery pack which means a Model S in a configuration that is damn expensive and much heavier.
5. When one needs to take the Karma on a long trip the range is simply about stopping for gas. Filling a tank of gas takes nothing like 45 minutes recharge time you mention plus recharging in 45 minutes will require a special power outlet.

The Model S and the Karma are two very different cars. Compare all you like but then be fair about it.


RE: Bad Karma
By InfinityzeN on 2/28/2011 4:00:24 PM , Rating: 2
900ft/lbs with a single gear is not that impressive. Given the 24" rims, with a tire height of ~2", and figuring a 6k rpm redline, with the stated max speed of 125mph that would mean that the ratio is 4 or less.

900ft/lbs times drive ratio of 4 gives you 3600ft/lbs drivetrain modified. The Veyron has over 12,000ft/lbs in 1st gear. My weekend track toy Cobalt SS has over 4,200ft/lbs in 1st gear while weighing a good deal less.

You seem to have little actual knowledge of cars. Horsepower, not Torque, is the measure of actual work done and work is what moves your car. Torque is just a measure of force, which is easily changed by gearing.

200 horse power at 5252 rpm is also 200ft/lbs of torque. Run that through a 4:1 gear ratio and you end up with 200 horse power, 1313 rpm, and 800ft/lbs of torque. 1st gear in cars tend to range between 10:1 and 12:1 ratios.


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