3/22/2012 | 4 MINUTE READ

The Fisker Karma: A Real Car with Real Design & Engineering

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When a designer creates a company, chances are that the product is going to be exquisite, not mass-market. Which is exactly what Henrik Fisker has done.


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Here’s the thing that makes absolutely no sense about the levels of skepticism (as in, “It’s not a real car company. What do they think they’re doing, anyway—the production volumes are infinitesimal.”) regarding Fisker Automotive, which is based on producing extended-range electric vehicles:

Henrik Fisker, who founded the com-pany in 2007, is trained as a designer and has an impressive portfolio with stints at places including Ford and BMW Designworks. Among the works that he’s credited with is the Aston Martin V8 Vantage. The production launch version of the DB9. He worked on the 1997 BMW ZO7 concept and the 1999 Z8 roadster.

So, what do all of those things have in common? One is “real” car companies. And the second is that volumes aren’t exactly the stuff of mass production, that they are cars that are aspirational.

Yet somehow, people have a tendency to bust out the calculators when it comes to the Fisker Karma, a car with an MSRP that starts at $102,000 and climbs to $115,000. Before options. (Like the “Diamond Dust” paint, which uses flakes from recycled glass, and adds $3,200.)

Wait, that’s not the problem. After all, this is a rear-wheel-drive, four-passenger, four-door sedan with an extruded aluminum spaceframe and body panels formed from aluminum and advanced composites.

Cars like that—cars with a sinuous and sumptuous design—generally cost in the six-figure range. Easily. A 2012 Aston Martin V12 Vantage has an MSRP north of $185,000. (And they don’t qualify for tax credits, as the Karma does for the reason that will become clear in a moment.)

No, that’s not the reason for those people running the numbers with the flying fingers of a tweenage girl who has just had a Justin Bieber sighting and needs to text her friends.

It’s because the Fisker Karma is an extended-range electric vehicle.

Somehow that causes people to get all serious and snarky about return on investment. To make them skeptical about credibility. Funny thing: If you look at the history of production of the Ford Motor Company, established in 1903, the numbers for the first several years were in the hundreds of units. By 1909, with the development of the Model T and the launch of the Piquette Road plant the annual number got to 18,000. But it took Henry six years to get there. While there is no indication that Henrik Fisker has no more relation to Henry Ford than initials and an interest in the car industry (let’s face it: one was interested in mass volume and one in a certain je ne sais quoi), it does lead one to wonder whether there weren’t those back in the early 20th century who were as serious, snarky and skeptical toward Ford as there are those toward Fisker. (“What do they think they’re doing, anyway—the production volumes are infinitesimal.”)

And when’s the last time that anyone ran the ROI on an Aston Martin?

The Real Thing.

Architecturally, the Karma, a plug-in hybrid, has a General Motors Ecotec 2.0-liter turbocharged, direct-injection four-cylinder engine that produces 260 hp. But it doesn’t directly drive the wheels. Rather it is connected to a 175-kW generator. Running down the center of the vehicle is a 180-kW, 20-kWh nanophosphate lithium-ion battery (LiFEPO4) package from A123 Systems (a123systems.com). Then at the rear there is a liquid-cooled rear differential module that includes two 201.5-hp (150-kW) electric traction motors and a limited slip differential that operates as a single-speed transmission.

The Fisker drive system is based on the Q-Drive technology developed by Quantum Technologies (qtww.com). There are two manually selectable operating modes: Stealth and Sport. The former (glossing the military-oriented roots of the development) allows the car to run purely on electricity for up to 50 miles and to a top speed of 95 mph. Sport mode engages the “range extender” (a.k.a., engine) that allows a range of up to an additional 250 miles and a top speed of 125 mph.

The Karma has a 3.3-kWh on-board charger that has both 120- and 240-volt capacity. Supplementing this is what is said to be the largest solar panel on a production car. It’s not that it adds all that much energy—an average of 0.5 kWh per day—but it is in keeping with the focus on efficiency (e.g., in addition to the aforementioned recycled glass in the optional paint, wood in the interior is sourced from logs that had been sunk in Lake Michigan and from California orchards where there had been wind damage). While many solar panels are flat, the Karma roof is curved. This is achieved by the hand placing of 80 cells that are organized into four electrically isolated modules for maximum energy capture.

The Karma is being manufactured by Valmet Automotive (valmet-automotive.com) in its plant in Uusikaupunki, Finland, which has been involved in the production of specialty and low-volume vehicles for companies including Porsche since 1968, when it was established to build Saabs.

It all seems so very real.


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