The idea that people could love a car purely for its design is the ethos of Fisker. "Make it work," Henrik Fisker said to his engineers over four years ago when he first showed the Fisker Karma in Detroit. Between then and now, the company has gone through a lot to get this vision on the road. The story is nowhere close to perfect, but they did stick to their word. No compromises of design.
Karma is known in Indian religions to be an action that creates an entire cycle of cause and effect. We know it as: do something good, be in the good cycle; do something bad, expect hell in payment. Fisker's plan, beyond design, was to make a product that is environmentally responsible (good karma). Headquartered in southern California, responsibility to the environment means zero emissions. But, responsibility to customers can mean offering an option to go further than 32 miles per charge (official EPA battery range), if needed. And so, the idea of a beautifully crafted, environmentally responsible, desirable, road-tripable extended-range electric sports vehicle, the Fisker Karma, was born.
The complex drivetrain of the Karma is similar to the Chevy Volt. A turbocharged 2.0-liter Ecotec engine, sourced from GM, assists in charging the 22 kWh battery from A123 Systems with an onboard 175 kW generator. The generator can also send electricity directly to the motors without having to first go through the battery. This method of energy transfer is exactly what you'll find in diesel locomotives.
With such a complex arrangement of controls and high voltage ancillary equipment, things can go wrong in the early stages. One such public matter occurred just last week when Consumer Reports reported that their privately owned Fisker Karma--which they purchased anonymously--broke down during their fleet arrival inspection. The news was instantly picked up by many major media outlets.
Adding fuel to the fire is continued political skepticism of the DOE's loan to Fisker. Many pundits have pointed to Fisker as an example of how the DOE handed out loans too liberally. Not only has Fisker been unable to meet terms and timelines required by the loan, they're also building the Karmas in Finland with U.S. taxpayer dollars. The Consumer Reports issue couldn't have come at a worse time for Fisker.
Fisker's recently appointed CEO, former Chrsyler executive Tom LaSorda, issued a public statement saying that, with new tech, things can go wrong. But to customers, they can rest assured that any issues will fall under Fisker's warranty of 50 months/50,000 miles. Not only that, LaSorda stated that a 50-person "SWAT team" of engineers and consultants were put into place to fully research the cause of any issues and expedite any customer repairs. Consumer Reports recently stated that their Karma had been returned and is running fine. However, the entire battery pack was replaced (est. $18,000). Maybe now some good Karma is on the way.
Continuing with responsibility, the interior of the Karma is said to be 'eco-friendly'. Reclaimed wood from SoCal fires and driftwood from the bottom of Lake Michigan both line the interior, creating an environment that's both elegant and organic. Continuing to seating surfaces, leather is optional, but Fisker says they use hides that other automakers pass over due to scratches. They also discard less of the hide. On top of the car lie solar panels--standard on all Karmas. The panels aid in charging the battery and providing a comfortable cabin temperature for arrival. The roof can generate .5 kWh per day. In one week, this amounts to about 4 or 5 miles, if continuously sunny. On top of the car-mounted solar panels, customers can buy panels that go on their house to directly charge the Karma. More sustainable practices like these are much needed in a highly competitive market like the auto industry.
Along with the 'eco-friendly' interior, the Karma's infotainment options are also designed for style. Much of the interface looks sharp and refined, but we think there is still much to improve on. Some of the UI elements could use some adjustment to better make clear what can be done. The infotainment is named Command Center and runs on a 10.2-inch resistive screen. The amount of information displayed at once can be overwhelming at first, but gets easier as you become more accustomed to the system. Plus, more info on a single page can mean less pages to deal with in general. We plan to have a further deep dive into the Command Center later on.
There's a decent amount of both doubt and praise out there for the Karma. But, good or bad, people are noticing it. And seeing the car in person is one of those 'step-back' moments where you realize the last ten years of your life have flown by and we are now in the future. That ethos of "make it work" and "design sells" have to be worth a at least a little bit of good karma, after all.