For a while, Tesla’s Roadster was pretty much the only really sleek electric sports car making the rounds in the Valley. That ended when Henrik Fisker’s Fisker Automotive unveiled the Karma, a swanky electric sedan with an $80,000 price tag, and said the company had received backing from well-known venture firm Kleiner Perkins. Since then we’ve wanted to catch up with the car designer and entrepreneur behind the plan, and Fisker obliged us with these 10 questions:
Earth2Tech: The Fisker Karma will be a series hybrid like the Volt. Why did the company choose this technology as opposed to a parallel hybrid or an all-electric car?
Henrik Fisker: We chose the plug-in hybrid technology because it brings you the best of both the gasoline engine and the pure electric. When you plug in our car everyday you then can go 50 miles on pure electric. The big difference to a normal hybrid is that the Karma will stay in pure electric and, therefore, zero emissions for the first 50 miles. The advantage over a pure electric car is that, just like a gasoline car, we have no range limitation. After having passed the 50 miles on pure electric, you can fill the car up at a gas station and go as far as you want, which is the ultimate freedom, which cars are about.
E2T: What battery company will Fisker use for the Karma? There’s been rumors about Advanced Lithium Power, and having the batteries built in British Columbia; can you comment on those?
HF: We have not disclosed at this point what batteries we are using. It is still confidential for competitive reasons.
E2T: After watching Tesla get its Roadster to market this year and now start work on the White Star, is there anything you have learned from Tesla’s mistakes or successes?
HF: We do not compare ourselves to other startup companies. We believe we are a different type of startup, as all of our people come from the automotive industry and have extensive experience with the automotive industry. We are therefore taking a different approach, knowing how complicated it is to bring a vehicle to the market.
E2T: Fisker is backed by VC firm Kleiner Perkins. Why do you think venture firms are becoming more eager to invest in electric vehicle startups? And does that mean Al Gore is going to be a customer?
HF: I believe that there is great interest venture capital firms to invest into green technologies because they are able to make a lot of money as well as doing something good for the environment. That is a win-win. At this point, we have a lot of interesting customers and we are sure that a lot of politicians would select our car if they want to have the most stylish, innovative and greenest car to drive.
E2T: What do you think of the future of biofuels?
HF: Biofuel is an interest niche, however it still does not have an available infrastructure and you are still polluting to a certain extent.
E2T: The Karma sedan is priced at $80,000. Tesla’s White Star sedan is priced around $50,000 and will have a series hybrid version. The Volt, last time I checked came in around $40,000. What is a customer getting for that extra money?
HF: Just like today, we have low-end cars like Kia and Hyundai and mid-range cars like Volkswagen and Chevy and high-end cars like BMW, Audi and Fisker. Our customer gets an extraordinary design, very high quality and performance that no other four-door luxury sports plug-in hybrid will offer – 125 mph top speed; zero to 60 in less than six seconds and sports-car handling.
E2T: I’ve read the company is looking to outsource construction of the vehicle, possibly in Detroit. Have you narrowed your decision down, and who are you looking at?
HF: We are not ready to announce our production site as we are in the middle of final negotiations.
E2T: You’ve designed your share of non-green cars. What’s different about designing for the eco-consumer?
HF: The difference between designing a non-green car and designing for the eco-consumer is that we almost have to go beyond what the expectation is when it comes to the looks of the vehicle. At Fisker Automotive we are trying to redefine the consumer’s impression of green cars, which today is that they are small, uncomfortable and quirky-looking. With the Fisker Karma, we designed a car which is more dramatic and stylish than any current normal 4-door sports sedan to make a point that green can be beautiful and can be sexy.
E2T: What are the biggest barriers for venture-backed electric vehicle startups?
HF: The car business is a very cash-intensive business and is also the most regulated product in the marketplace. Therefore, you need a lot of funding and highly qualified people who understand the car business.
E2T: Do you see the auto industry as your partner or are you looking to be a disruptive force (or is Detroit a frenemy)?
HF: We are looking to start a new wave of eco-chic green cars and place ourselves as a leader in the green car luxury market. We have absolutely no problem working together with large OEMs in the future.