The cars we loved.
The two stars of the premium electric sedan market could not be any more different. While the Tesla Model S has become the electro darling, it’s biggest direct rival, the Fisker Karma has turned into a kind of dark horse of the electric car world. Not that Fisker’s Karma is a bad car. It technically was the first of the electric premiums to be announced, but production and financing snafus left it more than a year late to the starting line.
While production was being delayed in 2011, there was plenty of time for the California-based Fisker Automotive to get caught up in political mischief. A large part of the start-ups funding came from the American Government, citing critics to proclaim that’s its pie in the ski goals were not going to make a return on the investment of tax dollars. To make matters worse, actual assembly would occur in Finland, by Valmet Automotive at a factory that also built some Porsche models. To many conservatives, this was very un-American. The politicians somehow ignored the fact that much of the auto industry is global in that way. It certainly did not help that one of the most costly components, the pair of AC motors at the Karma’s rear wheels came from China.
The Karma leaves a striking first impression. Low and wide, the it has a distinct front grille that looks like the Joker’s wide faced grin. Swoopy finders cap large 22” wheels (21” for the winter package) that give the Karma the look of a high-speed exotic. Its looks alone could have sold it. Unfortunately, the on again off again release schedule led some to lose faith in Frisker’s ability to deliver a solid product. When production models did arrive by early 2012, some became the center of controversy due to fires allegedly from the Chinese made AC motors. An example bought by Consumer Reports magazine developed motor failure and was not even able to complete the pre-testing procedure. PR and quick damage control at Fisker has improved things, but by the time things had been turned around, the Telsa Model S had stolen much of the Karma’s thunder. The Karma did manage to be the Top Gear car of the Year for 2012. Other favorable ratings would eventually follow in Europe and North America.
The Cure For Range Anxiety
Unlike the Tesla Model S, the Karma uses a gasoline direct injection GM supplied 4 cylinder engine, giving it hybrid status. The 260 hp ECOTEC engine helps alleviate any range anxiety, but not like you would expect. Its used to power a generator that supplies current to two AC electric motors. The pair at the rear wheels generates 403 hp together. It is similar to the setup in the Chevy Volt, but not as efficient. One of the reasons for that is the Karma weighs nearly 5,000 lb. Even with all that heft, the Karma can manage a seamless rush to 60 mph in 6.3 seconds. In Sport mode, the Karma can reach a top speed of 125 mph.
At $100k give or take a few thousand, the Karma comes in one mechanical flavor but in three trims. EcoStandard, EcoSport and EcoChic relate more to interior options that dictate wood trim types and entertainment options as opposed to Tesla’s 3 tiered model of range/performance. All trims feature a solar panel roof that helps generate power for the HVAC and accessories. Fisker offers a kit to allow fully off the grid solar charging for those wealthy extremists who must prepare for the petro apocalypse.
High Technology and Higher Style
Regardless of trim, there are two driving modes, one for regular (Stealth) and the more aggressive (Sport) for doing things like pushing the karma’s 125 mph top speed. After 50 miles, the Karma’s turbocharged 2.0L direct-injection engine kicks in to extend range up to 250 miles. That earns it a 54 MPGe rating from the EPA. Although the low slung Karma looks difficult to get into, access to its leather seats is easy. The cabin in general appears tight, thanks to the huge lithium-ion battery pack that runs along the middle of the interior like an oversized transmission tunnel. The imposing divide is the single biggest reason the big on the outside Karma gets a EPA subcompact classification for interior volume. The interior continues the eco-friendly theme by using recycled wood accents. The controls are simplistic at first glance, but are hidden by a 10.2 inch multi-function screen. The dash is not as slick as those in the Volt or Model S, but it conveys all the necessary information about the car’s status and entertainment options.
Not Out of the Woods Yet
While the Karma’s profile has risen since its problem laden run to market, it still has nagging political and legal problems. As if to re-ignite the spirit of the old Tesla vs. Edison fight, Tesla Motors declared that Fisker Automotive used it’s technology in the development of the Karma. While all that will no doubt be ironed out in the courts, Tesla’s Model S had already outsold the Karma. Only 200 or so Karma’s were sold in 2012 vs. hundreds more Model S sedans. Tesla has an even longer waiting list. Fisker to win, it will have to do a lot more than just look good to match the all-around practicality (and roominess) of the Tesla. That case will be held in the marketplace and not the courts.