Tesla CEO Elon Musk Slams The Fisker Karma

Automobile Staff

You could say Elon Musk is fairly busy these days: bringing the Tesla Model S to production, not to mention sending Space X cargo ships into orbit, requires 100-hour work weeks. But the billionaire CEO carved out a few moments last week to throw a few bombs at nemesis Henrik Fisker and the plug-in electric rival to his Model S, the Fisker Karma.

“It’s a mediocre product at a high price,” Musk said in an interview with Automobile Magazine. “The car looks very big, and yet it has no trunk space and is very cramped inside, particularly in the rear seats.”

The rivalry between Tesla and Fisker dates back to the origins of both sedans. Tesla unsuccessfully sued Henrik Fisker, CEO of the eponymous car company, for developing the Karma while he was under contract for the design of the Model S. “We were paying someone to do styling for his own car,” Musk alleges. Tesla hired former Mazda and General Motors designer Franz von Holzhausen to pen a completely new, battery-electric Model S, which is now rolling off Tesla’s Fremont, California, assembly line with a base price of $95,400 (in the Signature trim level; a $57,400 version with a smaller battery goes on sale this fall). Musk sees a critical difference between it and the $103,000 Karma—and between himself and Fisker.

“The fundamental problem with Henrik Fisker — he is a designer or stylist…he thinks the reason we don’t have electric cars is for lack of styling. This is not the reason. It’s fundamentally a technology problem. At the same time, you need to make it look good and feel good, because otherwise you’re going to have an impaired product. But just making something look like an electric car does not make it an electric car.”

Alluding to the fact that the Karma leans heavily on suppliers, Musk continued, “[Fisker] thinks the most important thing in the world — or the only important thing in the world — is design, so he outsourced the engineering and manufacturing. But the fact is…that’s the crux of the problem. And he’s outsourcing to people who don’t know how to solve the problem.”

The Karma’s plug-in hybrid powertrain was developed by Quantum Technologies and employs a General Motors–sourced 2.0-liter turbo four-cylinder for its gasoline engine. Contract manufacturer Valmet assembles the car in Finland. Tesla employed a somewhat similar model in producing its Lotus Elise-based Roadster, installing its own electric motor into a Lotus-supplied chassis. But for the Model S, Musk has gone to extreme lengths to vertically integrate production. Everything from the electric motor to the aluminum-intensive chassis and the seventeen-inch touch screen were developed by Tesla, which has grown from some 500 employees in 2009 to about 2000 today.

Musk allowed that the Karma, our 2012 Design of the Year, is well styled. “It looks good. Particularly from the side it looks good. I don’t love the front. It looks too much like a caricature of a Mexican Bandito—the grille.”

We ran Musk’s comments by Henrik Fisker, who responded via e-mail:

“Firstly, to set the record straight, Fisker won in court…a judge threw out the case and awarded costs to Fisker.

Secondly, we are delighted that Elon thinks the Karma is a good-looking car.

Obviously, Tesla and Fisker are appealing to two different customer bases with two totally different technologies. Tesla has pure EV and Fisker has a range-extended offering with no compromise on range. We are proud to have delivered over 1000 Karmas to customers in the U.S. and Europe and are now moving into the [Gulf Cooperation Council countries] and Chinese global markets.

We wish Tesla all the best with their latest model and hope that both companies go from strength to strength as they challenge the automotive rulebook.”

The truth is that both fledgling automakers have far bigger concerns than each other. But the enmity certainly makes things interesting. Who do you think builds a better environmentally friendly luxury sedan? Read our review of the Karma here and our first drive of the Model S here. Our complete interview with Musk is here.

—David Zenlea

Who cares about the respective "class" of the ceo? The model S is clearly a better car. The Karma is a Volt in a fancy dress. The Model S is revolutionary.
Their respective emails show clearly who has class...and who doesn't.
I have researched both the Tesla Model S and the Fisker Karma extensively, and 1,000 miles ago decided to purchase the Fisker Karma. It is a joy to drive, and the fact that it looks better than virtually any car to ever hit the road has some unexpected but delightful consequences. The Tesla Model S is more functional in many respects, but the Karma won out in the end. The fact that the Tesla looks like an updated Buick was part of my decision, but not having any range anxiety was also important. Yes, for $100,000 you can get the version of the Model S that has a 300 mile range, but at that price point you might as well get a Fisker and never worry about range :)
The Fisker is tentimes more beautiful than the Tesla sedan. Kudos 2 Fisker for their relax reply !
The Karma is absolutely hideous and the company has no future, period. You can't build a company where all your technology is outsourced. Telsa has built a strong company from the ground up, but Telsa will still be hampered by the lack of a "grid" to recharge the cars on any type of longer trip so they are strictly "second cars" which most families have anyway. With gas prices so cheap, electric cars or hybrids are still not cost effective so the people who buy them are just looking to make a fashion statement. I would buy a diesel before I would buy either of these cars or any car with any type of an electric battery!
This is how I see the goals of each company: Tesla - Performance, practicality, fuel economy/emissions, technology Fisker - Styling Frankly, I just respect Elon's goals so much more than Fisker's because they he seems to be focusing on proving that an electric car can be better than a gasoline car in more ways than one. This is opposed to Fisker, who seem to be focusing mainly on styling. Perhaps at some point they thought they could outperfom gasoline vehicles too, but that certainly isn't the case with the Karma.
Fisker owner her too. I LOVE my Fisker Karma. My dealer put me on new software 6.28 and I have been in driving heaven. I ave about 95 to 110 MPG. I get about 40 to 44 miles per change on a full battery. My daily commute + is between 32 mil and 50 mile. I have seen my local gas station once in last 6 weeks (Bye Bye BP). I know the car is expensive. This is the one spurge that I may never do again. If Fisker can build the Atlantic and sell for $50 to 65k, then the automobile world has just changed forever. For Mr. Musk - I admire your passion as well. It just appears that Fisker and Tesla may become the modern day feud of Ford and Chevy. That's alright. Both Automobile companies are FANTASTIC, however the Karma and soon Atlantic suits my needs perfectly. Lastly - Everyone....BIG OIL does NOT want to see the success of either. Be open minded and drive the cars. Look into what both companies will bring in the future. You will want both companies to success and you may even share the passion. Best to both Henirk Fisker and Elon Musk. I'm proud of you both!!
Two Fisker Karma's have burned themselves up while parked. What an apt name. Karma from when Henrik F. did to Tesla...
Guys, just kiss and make up. Both cars are great in their own way. If one could marry the technological achievements of Tesla with the styling and brand cache of Fisker, it would be one hell of a car!
I have been driving a Fisker Karma for the last 6 months, and Musk cannot be more wrong. The Karma does not just look good, but it is also a fantastic car to drive and has no range limitation. The quality issues have been almost completely resolved with the newest software. The Model-S looks like he bastard child of a Mazda and a Jag (inheriting the ugliest features of both) and still has a practical range limit, even with the great engineering in it. I don't see a great deal of competition between the two cars since they are designed for different missions so Musk's remarks are basically sour grapes from losing the arbitration against Fisker.
I like Elon and the TELSA vision, but I think Mush went a little too far in this interview today -- and frankly, I have a new appriciation for henrik on his response -- good for you Mr. Fisker Tesla CEO Elon Musk Slams The Fisker Karma

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