Fisker Automotive's Karma. Photo courtesy of Fisker Automotive
Fisker Karma made its Minnesota debut Thursday June 10th
One of the most exciting new manufacturers to emerge out of the American auto industry in recent years has to be Fisker Automotive. Fisker has been visiting cities in 26 states to promote one of the greenest cars in the US auto industry today, the Fisker Karma.
I was invited to Minnesota’s launch at Borton Volvo in Golden Valley yesterday, where the Fisker Karma CS made its Minnesota debut to members of the media and interested parties. If it looks good in photographs, I can tell you first hand, it looks even better in the flesh; the Karma is one of the hottest looking hybrids around and will not be out of place sitting next to some of the most exotic machinery in the business. Get one while you can, because demand is high.
Some may be asking who or what Fisker Automotive is given the California based company is a relative new comer to the auto industry, but what they have achieved in just three years under Henrik Fisker's leadership is something of an automotive miracle. The company didn’t just flirt with possibility they went straight to the jugular, straight into the increasingly popular and viciously competitive hybrid market which is currently dominated by the likes of Toyota, Honda, and Ford.
It’s a brave move, one which other American based, eco-friendly and independent car manufacturers like Tesla and Aptera didn’t dare touch. Fisker’s product however is so well regarded that they have already attracted hundreds of millions in loans from the Department of Energy to fuel research and development in the Karma and their future plans such as the NINA, a more affordable, but future sporty hybrid for the masses.
The first aspect you notice about the Karma car are the wheels - they are huge, monstrous even. They are in fact 22 inch rims which are snuggly tucked under one of the curviest exteriors you’ll ever see, which contributes to a muscular shape that snarls at you. With it’s extremely low profile tires and its low ride height, the car looks every bit a sports car, and nothing like the traditional, sedately styled hybrid.
(Huge 22 inch wheels add muscularity to the Karma)
The vehicle’s interior matches the function of its exterior, so there are hugging, sporty bucket seats clad in suitably luxurious leather. The driving position is much lower than a standard car, befitting the nature of the beast, but it was comfortable in the cockpit with all of the basic controls where you’d expect. You certainly felt at one with the car, but of course the true test would be a road trip.
(The Karma's layout is traditional enough for most drivers to be quickly comfortable in the vehicle. The paddles on the steering are not F.1 shifters, but can adjust the car's handling characteristics as needed)
Unfortunately this show version was not available for testing since it was for promotional purposes only, lest a future customer or journalist crash the thing ruining the rest of the Karma’s tour. We weren’t even allowed to see under the hood. Still, Kjell (pronounced shell) Bergh, Borton Volvo’s CEO, informed me that he had strong customer interest in Fisker Karma during Wednesday’s promotion despite customers not being able to test drive.
A Fisker employee, who was not authorized to give interviews, did confirm that the car is very responsive and hinted that it may be stiffer in production form, which is promising. There are plans to create 100 test vehicles for those like me, who’re dying to get behind the wheel, or who really want a test drive before purchase.
What separates the Karma from other hybrids is its technology, something that has attracted that 500 million in Department of Energy funding. Being a plug-in hybrid (PHEV) means that in theory you could fill the Karma up as little as once or twice a year averaging something like 100 mpg! It's technology that has the auto industry taking note and explains the DoE's willingness to help fund the company's future ventures.
(The Karma is a plug-in hybrid embracing truly green technology that few other sports cars can claim to do thanks to its high range on battery power coupled with a GM sourced eco-tech engine)
The secret is the intelligent Q Drive system coupled with the car’s ability to travel up to 50 miles a day, emission free, on battery power. Unlike a standard hybrid which primarily runs on the engine, the Karma runs on batteries until the engine is needed and seamlessly transitions between the two power sources. The company cleverly identified that most American commuters traveled less than 50 miles a day, needlessly wasting precious fuel energy that could otherwise be saved – just ask BP.
(Q Drive is a unique system developed for Fisker which allows for seamless transition between battery usage and the car's gasoline engine. When the battery is exhausted, the gas engine operates, recharging the batteries for future use, massively reducing the car's fuel consumption and emissions output)
Under battery power the Karma is so quiet that the rear exhausts are in fact speakers which are throttle linked to produce exhaust noise so that pedestrians can hear it coming. Plans are afoot to allow customers to download custom engine sounds to their Karma to suit their demands!
(Not an exhaust, but a speaker. The real exhausts for the gas engines are located upfront just behind the front wheels)
Yet, by having a GM sourced eco-tech engine, the Karma provides greater consumer flexibility for people not wanting to be constraints of a purely electric vehicle that can restrict spontaneous travel decisions.
I spoke candidly with Borton Volvo’s CEO Kjell Bergh about the Karma and asked him how Borton Volvo was chosen to sell Fisker products in MN.
“We were handpicked” said Bergh who went on to explain that Fisker studied dealerships across the state looking for the best customer service ratings. It’s a huge win for Borton Automotive, because they will be the sole supplier for Fisker, not only in Minnesota, but also the Dakota’s.
Borton Volvo already has 14 vehicles on pre-order, such is the excitement surrounding this vehicle. “A couple came in today and asked, ‘where do we sign?’”, said Burgh, which reinforces the broad appeal of the product even though it is not in final production just yet.
If you have a spare $87,000 to spend on a highly efficient sports car that has luxury, performance and a certain amount of exclusivity, the Fisker Karma is unbeatable. “If you take this car out and return from a restaurant, you’ll have people clambering to get a look inside.” said Burgh. “It’s green and beautiful with sports car performance…there is no compromise.”
Before you balk over the price, you may be surprised to learn that the Karma CS, while not cheap, is surprisingly competitive price wise when stacked against other luxury hybrids. According to www.carsdirect.com’s best luxury hybrid list, a BMW X6 Hybrid SUV, which gets only 18mpg, is priced at roughly $90,000. A Cadillac Escalade Hybrid, the first 8 passenger SUV, sells for $70,000, while the Mercedes ML50 Hybrid can not be purchased - apparently because of limited batteries - but you can lease one for 30 or 60 months at more than 500 a month. The fuel efficiency of these cars pales in comparison with the Karma.
It's an interesting comparison to make though and something I discussed with Bergh yesterday, the fact many famous marques have toyed with luxury hybrid technology in future concept vehicles, but we haven't seen many examples of the real thing for sale. Bergh explained that some smart and highly experienced people have joined Fisker, from the likes of BMW and elsewhere. Unlike the huge auto giants, "Fisker is not tied down with corporate red tape." explained Bergh. It has allowed them to get on with the business they truly want to and not be tied down with other demands or conflicting boardroom expectations.
For those customers looking for something that looks more like the nearly 90 grand they paid and really want green technology, the Karma unequivocally fits the bill. Burgh reminded me too that Fisker’s project NINA program will also provide those on a slightly smaller budget a chance to own a comparable product in the near future. While the Karma is the flagship expect to see a smaller 4-door version that will still be sporty, but retail for around $40,000, closer to the reach of most of us.
The Karma has already got a lot of people very excited and if the car is successful, which it already seems to be, we will see a lot more of Fisker Automotive on Minnesota roads in the near future.
Watch an interview with Henrik Fisker in this You Tube video below:
For more info: www.karma.fiskerautomotive.com/, http://www.borton.com/contact/index.php#mpls, http://www.examiner.com/x-4026-Minneapolis-Autos-Examiner~y2009m6d29-Fisker-Automotives-2010-Karma