IT’LL NEVER HAPPEN – THE SHOW CAR
If, in the cold Detroit winter of 2008, the Fisker Karma concept car had been shown by an established automaker, it would have been hailed as the second coming of luxury sedans. Its proportions alone gave other auto executives and engineers varicose veins -- but at the car’s estimated $80,000 base price, it would have been the Karma’s salespeople who would have been truly overwhelmed. In terms of visual bang for the buck, the Karma would have had no competition on Planet Earth.
But the Karma was not supposed to be just a beautiful luxury sedan. Included in that competitive price, and hidden under the four-seater’s skin, was something straight out of Science Fiction: an electric powertrain with a range-extending internal combustion engine. That car, with that powertrain, at that price? The Karma’s good looks might have wooed them speechless, but both seasoned journalists and inexperienced bloggers still managed to scratch out on their notepads: “It’ll never happen.”
Three years later, it’s about to.
THE LUXURY CAR, REDEFINED
The base price has risen slightly (to $96,850, including destination), and if you parked the production-spec 2012 Karma next to the show car, you might notice a couple of subtle differences. But in the Karma’s journey from Sci-Fi concept to On-A-Lot-Near-You production car, nothing of substance has changed. At the end of April, the first Karmas will be delivered to paying customers, and the luxury car market will have been changed forever.
Are we perhaps overstating the significance of the Karma? Possibly -- but that risk won’t stop us from calling this Fisker the most important car of the year. And for multiple reasons.
REASON ONE: THE TUCKER FACTOR and THE ONLY THREE
For the entire existence of Automobile Magazine, there have been three American car companies. Call them the Big Three or the Detroit Three, but a more accurate name is the Only Three. A little Silicon Valley company called Tesla popped up a few years ago and, for the first time, showed the Only Three that they were no longer the Standard of the World. The world had moved on, and while the Only Three fought against fuel economy standards and struggled to make their first attempts at fuel-saving technologies (remember the Saturn Vue hybrid, which got an oversize alternator and a hybrid badge?) Tesla started selling an all-electric sports car.
A few years later, there’s Fisker. Henrik Fisker might not have an American passport, but Fisker Automotive is an American company, with its home in Southern California. And it, like Tesla, is making waves big enough to grab the attention of the world. Tesla and Fisker are doing something that the Only Three haven’t done for years -- innovate from the ground up. The spirit of true innovation is what made the world pay attention to the American car companies in the first place.
Over the past several decades, and especially until recently, the Only Three have struggled to make real innovations -- they’ve barely been able to product world-class cars, not to mention a profit. But while they sit around and wonder why young people aren’t excited about cars, they’re showing a complete lack of understanding of youth. What excites young people is magic. Magic -- as defined by science fiction becoming reality. The truth is that young people are very much excited by cars, just not the same old cars that the Only Three have been putting out.
Put a Tesla Roadster or a Fisker Karma in front of a sixteen-year-old and you’ll see excitement you could measure on a multimeter. Why? These cars are rolling science fiction, in the same way that fin-tailed Cadillacs were rolling Sci-Fi to their parents and grandparents.