Driven: 2012 Fisker Karma ES

Something magical happened in January of 2007 when the public first laid eyes on the Chevrolet Volt concept at the Detroit auto show. High-resolution images of its aggressive, futuristic styling were instantly broadcast, simulcast, and multicast to television screens all around the world, and it became a household name long before we even knew if it would ever make it to market. Even though the technology powering the concept didn't yet exist, the Volt's appearance-combined with the sci-fi dream of a mass-market electric car finally becoming a reality-was so mesmerizing that the car immediately became a beacon of hope for the American auto industry.

If, in 2008, the Fisker Karma concept car had been unveiled by an established automaker, the earth might have momentarily stopped rotating. And yet, not a single interplanetary anomaly occurred. Actually, no one batted an eye-certainly not the big car companies. It'll never happen, they said. No way, no how. Not with those proportions. Surely not as a range-extended electric vehicle-and definitely not for the $80,000 price that Fisker then thought possible. And so everybody ignored Henrik Fisker and his little Karma project and went back to business as usual.

Despite General Motors' bankruptcy, the Volt actually made it to series production a few short years later. It was such an achievement, in fact, that we named it our 2011 Automobile of the Year. Now, get ready for EV surprise, round two.

The Fisker Karma is a big deal. We're venturing into uncharted territory, but if Fisker succeeds, it proves the point that Tesla has been scrambling to make with its yet-to-appear Model S-that the automobile is now a commodity and start-up companies can build them, too. (Well, as long as the Department of Energy is handing out $529 million loans, that is.)

The Karma's curvaceous skin is draped over an extruded aluminum spaceframe with a wheelbase as lengthy as that of a Mercedes-Benz S-class-but the Fisker is nearly ten inches shorter, 4.4 inches wider, and 5.6 delicious inches lower in height. The resulting low, wide stance makes even the Maserati Quattroporte look demure-and the standard twenty-two-inch wheels certainly don't hurt that impression. Nor do the massive Brembo brakes lurking behind the two-tone spokes.

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The problem of importing and using oil has been well defined. Natural gas does not produce massive toxic waste. Natural gas and nuclear energy produce produce about the same amount of electrical generation as coal. The vast majority of the remaining electrical generation sources are low in pollution. Electric cars are no panacea, but they can certainly be part of a transitional solution.
I will answer your last question for you. It is expensive, has average performance, and a limited range. Electric cars are an answer to a problem that has yet to be defined. Unless we switch to nuclear energy, electric cars are nothing more than a toxic waste dump waiting for the day to be put to rest.

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