(Detroit January 12, 2009) Veteran automotive designer Henrick Fisker unveiled the production intent version of his vision for high performance luxury transportation this week at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit. Detroit in January is generally not the ideal place for top down motoring but Fisker also used it as the back drop for the new Karma Sunset concept.
The Sunset is based on the Karma sedan but with a shorter wheelbase, two fewer doors and a retractable hard top.
Both cars are powered by the same Q-Drive powertrain developed by partner Quantum Technologies. A lithium ion battery pack resides down the central tunnel. Fisker tells Green Fuels Forecast that "the battery pack is coming from another company called ALP which Quantum founded and now Fisker Automotive has taken a large stake in Advanced Lithium Power."
"We'll get this battery exclusive in the Fisker Karma."
The battery provides electrical power to a pair of 150 kW electric motors that are connected to the rear differential and drive the rear wheels. The combined 403 hp is sufficient to propel the Karma to 60 mph in 5.8 seconds. The battery pack is claimed to be able to provide a 50 mile range on a full charge without running the engine.
The Karma has two operating modes, a stealth electric only mode and sport mode. Since only the electric motors drive the vehicle acceleration performance is the same in either case. However, in stealth mode the top speed is limited to 95 mph. In the sport mode where the engine is able to sustain the battery charge, the top speed goes up to a sustainable 125 mph.
General Motors will be supplying Fisker with its 2.0L turbocharged and direct injected EcoTec four cylinder engine for use as a range extender. The 265 hp engine will drive a generator to charge the battery, extending the overall range of the car to approximately 300 miles. This is a similar architecture to the Chevrolet Volt.
According to Fisker, the engine/generator set "charges the battery and delivers electricity back to the rear wheels."
The Karma is using a "flexible aluminum space frame which is why we're able to do derivatives of the Karma fairly quick and very inexpensive. That's part of our whole business plan, to have a range of vehicles that's derived from this powertrain and this aluminum space frame" Fisker tells GFF.
The Karma sedan also features a solar photovoltaic array on the roof of the car as standard equipment. The solar panel will provide power to drive accessories like the ventilation reducing the parasitic loads on the powertrain.
If Fisker meets its launch goal this year it will have gone from conception to production in less than three years. Henrik Fisker explained to GFF how the company managed to do this. "First of all we hired a dream time of automotive engineers from worldwide, some of the best companies. Secondly we have developed a design process, the development engineering process which is probably 180 degrees different than anybody else is using."
"Thirdly we are setting up a facility where we are bringing in our suppliers and engineers from suppliers to work under the guidance and in close cooperation with our own engineers. All of this together has sped up the product development." Fisker also highlights the outsourcing of its manufacturing as a key to speeding development.
Fisker is planning annual volumes of 15,000 units with production due to start late in 2009. The cars will be assembled in Finland by Valmet. For the past decade, Valmet has been providing a secondary assembly source for the Porsche Boxster. Porsche is bringing that production back in house freeing Valmet to produce the Fisker.
Fisker did acknowledge that "in the future if we get a high enough volume with our next vehicles we may consider doing manufacturing here in the US together with a partner."
GFF also asked Fisker about entering the auto industry at this point in time with most of the major automakers including Toyota losing money and even premium brands such as Bentley and Ferrari struggling with falling sales.
"I think its a problem if you try to step into the market with a vehicle that's not differentiated. Our vehicle is so different, not only its design and the proportions, but it's very different from the whole powertrain concept. There's no one out there that has a plug-in hybrid vehicle. There's no one that is going to have one in the next two or three years, not in this segment. There's going to come a Volt, which is lower priced, a different brand, different customer."
"The type of customer we're looking at is the type of customer who's ready to show the rest of the world with the vehicle they drive that they care about the environment, they care about being independent of foreign oil, and they can now also drive a stylish vehicle that has a lot of power which is fun to drive."
With over 1,300 pre-orders already, Fisker is confident that the company can reach it's volume goal of 15,000 units a year soon after launch, hitting full volume by mid-2010. "We definitely see that the orders are coming in. in a steady growth every week," says Fisker. Whether this will actually happen remains to be seen however unless the overall economy makes a dramatic turn around in 2009.
Fisker also expresses confidence that the company can build the Karma profitably at its initial price of $87,900 in spite of the high cost of lithium batteries. "Investors like Kleiner-Perkins (one of the largest Silicon Valley venture capital firms) or QIA would not have invested into the Fisker Automotive unless we could become highly profitable. Of course the big advance with a plug-in hybrid is you don't need a giant battery like you would with a pure electric car."
Fisker will be letting the media drive the Karma later this year closer to launch. The company plans to add the Sunset convertible to the lineup in 2011.