FISKER AUTOMOTIVE: WHAT WENT WRONG?
This article was inspired by Bright Sun Film’s video "Bankrupt" series on YouTube. I explore what made the Karma the car of the future's past.
If you haven't seen BSF's video on Fisker Automotive, check it out here:
Henrik Fisker is a world-renowned car designer, known for the Aston Martin DB9 and the V8 Vantage. Perhaps most famously for the BMW Z8 and the Fisker Karma. Henrik decided he was done working for other people and set off to create his own car company. However, while Fisker Automotive was unveiling the Karma, a gasoline hybrid four-door sedan, a Silicon Valley startup was unveiling the newest all-electric vehicle in their arsenal, it was called the Tesla Model S.
Now the Model S and the Karma are more comparable than you might think. They are both alternative fuel four-door luxury sedans, designed to change people's perspectives of what the future of the car can be, and have rather interesting center consoles. The Karma had a four-cylinder GM engine paired with two electric motors, giving it 403 horsepower, 54 miles per gallon, but only 33 miles of fully electric driving. The Tesla had an all electric drivetrain with 136 to 225-mile range, and up to 416 horsepower. The Tesla’s base price was around $57,000 and the most expensive trim, the S, was only $87,000. The Karma started at $102,000 before options.
Remember, the Karma’s selling point was its design rather than its alternative powertrain. But I bet you didn’t know that it has more torque than a Bugatti Veyron. It packed 1,100 lbs.-ft. of torque. The solar panels on the roof of the Karma wasn’t to aid charge of the battery, but to power some of the creature-features in the cabin. For instance, you could sit the car out in 100 degree weather and keep the fans blowing without turning the car on. The idea was to make a “cheaper” Aston Martin Rapide because that seemed to be the benchmark car in a review of the Karma with Henrik Fisker on Jay Leno’s Garage.
The Karma had quite a few design flaws that were supposedly going to be cleaned up for the highly anticipated second generation, which Henrik never had the chance of doing until a few years ago with the Karma Revero. The infotainment screen was not intuitive and hard to get used to despite its iPad-like qualities. The center console had a translucent window through to the top of the battery compartment taking away from storage space. The battery supplier, A123 Systems, recalled the batteries used in the Karma because of excessive wear on the battery after charging every day. The rear seats didn’t have much legroom, and the figures provided for its speed, range, and price only made it appealing to people who could spend money without thinking.
Tesla was right on the ball with the Model S because they got it right on the first try. Plenty of range, plenty of power, simple design, an internet browser, rear-facing seats... I’m getting carried away with the features. It was cheaper, faster, and more ideal for the market it was being dropped into for the first time. I don’t hate the Karma, I actually began to like it more after I watched Jay Leno’s review, because it represented the future of the automobile. It was an idea that was made available to the public to take part in and fund. Anyone who owns one knows it has flaws and those who gave up on it loved it at one point. We were excited about an “electric vehicle with extended range”, but sales never proved that true. Maybe we all just fell in love with the idea of what the Fisker Karma could have been.