Thursday, February 24, 2011

Meet the Fisker Karma

Standing in the early morning California sunshine talking to Henrik Fisker, you'd think this was just another informal chat about his latest project. We've had plenty of those over the years, first when he was head of BMW Designworks and designer of the Z8, then design chief at Aston Martin and later as the head of Ford's Advance Design Studio. He is his normal open, friendly self, and there is no trace of stress or anxiety. This is odd, as surely there must be a few concerns on this, the first day anyone outside of the company has driven his billion-dollar baby, the extended-range electric Fisker Karma.

Read the full story on Fisker’s Karma in the new issue of TopGear magazine, on sale now.

"No. I'm just excited to know what you think about the car," he says with a smile. That might seem like over-confidence from anyone else, but maybe not Henrik. He's got a fabulous track record himself, and has assembled what he calls the dream team of designers, engineers and executives who have been responsible for producing winners such as the Rolls-Royce Phantom, Ford GT and BMW 5-Series. So maybe he has the right to be so sure.

But even he would have to admit that it's been quite a wild ride to end up where he is today, standing on the verge of launching his global empire, just 37 months after first showing the concept Karma to the world at the 2008 NAIAS in Detroit. In those three years since he wowed the world with his new car, Henrik and his partner, Barny Koehler, raised a billion dollars, set up a global dealer network and got 3,000 people to put down deposits for a car that had never moved a wheel under its own power. All this, despite the implosion of the global car industry.

One entirely forgivable reason for people giving them their cash was the way the car looked. Drawing on all his years of designing and overseeing gorgeous cars for other companies, Henrik created a fabulously desirable four-door saloon that had its own unique personality. The second reason was that this hugely indulgent-looking car was a hybrid. So some could justify it on rational rather than emotional grounds. And the final, shocking must-have-one-now for buyers was that it was going to cost under $90k.

It didn't all go to plan over the following three years, the production date slipping from 2009 to 2010 to the current March 2011. The price has inflated from $80k to a starting bid of $95,900 (£63,500). And the car has put on some weight, rising from the originally predicted 2,086kg to an expected figure somewhere around the 2,495kg mark. But that's about it. Everything else remains pretty much as promised, which is nothing short of remarkable, not just for a start-up car company, but any car company.

So, in something of a first, instead of a badly watered-down version of the dramatic concept car, the production Karma looks as radically sexy and desirable on its standard 22-inch Circuit Blade wheels as the one that we first saw in the Cobo Hall back in 2008. Maybe more so as the sun sparkles and flickers off the Karma's Diamond Dust paint out here on the infield of this deserted racetrack. This bodes well for the certain appearance of the open-topped and equally gorgeous Fisker Sunset next year - and possibly a shooting brake version à la Ferrari FF not long after that.

Looking around - and under - the cars (these are early production validation models flown in from the factory in Finland where they are made alongside Porsche Boxsters and Caymans), it's immediately clear why the team looks so confident. The exterior fit and finish is excellent - all narrow gaps, perfectly matched lines and super-lustrous paint. Not a ripple or piece of loose trim in sight. The underside of the car looks equally tidy, the entire surface from the rear of the front wheel arches back to the back of the car being completely flat and smooth. This all helps the Karma achieve a Cd of 0.31, which isn't stellar but definitely in the ballpark.

To give you some sense of the Karma's scale, it's the same length as a Mercedes-Benz CLS with the wheelbase of an S-Class. Yet it's only the height of a Porsche 911 and is 5cm wider than a Panamera. So it's low, wide - very wide - with a long wheelbase for its overall size. If those numbers add up to a GT rather than a four-door luxury saloon, that's no mistake. Because that's just how the aluminium space-framed and bodied Karma looks when you get up close to it. It's like the solar-roofed concept for the next Aston Martin Rapide or Maserati Quattroporte that you can buy today.
Read the full story on Fisker’s Karma in the new issue of TopGear magazine, on sale now.

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