Danish Delights #11: 2011 Fisker Karma

The Karma was built in Finland, but it was the brainchild of Danish car designer Henrik Fisker (BMW Z8, Aston Martin DB9 and others), so it is featured as a Danish car, because basically it is. If you didn’t know the creator was Danish, there are signs telling you as much:

  • Electric engine? Check
  • Lofty ambitions? Check
  • Massive failure? Check

More than anything, though, this is the story you want to read to your kids if you want to teach them what irony is.

Fisker actually saw a market when few other people did. In the naughts, those who like to be seen, were either driving fuel guzzling luxury or sports cars or anti-cars like the Prius, depending on what image they wanted to convey.

Fisker realized that if this demographic liked being green and liked luxury, then surely they would buy a unique product offering both. As a designer he had the skills to give the car a distinctive shape. There is no point in driving a green 7-series if nobody can see it is green (I mean there is, but you know what I mean).

As is clear from the photos, the car is almost as low and wide as the Connector 2001 featured in the last installment, and like that car, this car features solar panels on the roof – though here they merely power the air conditioning. This means that the Karma is very, very low and while distinctive, this only appeals to people who see a value in it – in a sports car you accept it because of the lower center of gravity. In a luxury car this removes all sense of luxury right at the point of entry. This is not the reason for the car’s failure though.

Also like the Connector 2001 – and the Prius – the Karma was a hybrid. This one powered by a 260 bhp gasoline engine in addition to two 160 bhp electric engines. Performance was in other words a lot better than anything ever built by Danes.

Fuel consumption, though, was not that impressive. Wikipedia writes that “The German Technical Inspection Association (TÜV) found through independent tests that the Fisker Karma has an all-electric range of 83 km (52 mi) in stealth (all-electric) mode. TÜV found that in charge-sustaining sport mode the Karma achieves a fuel economy of 26 mpg (9.2 l/100 km). The combined fuel economy was rated at 112 MPG-e (2.1 l/100 km equivalent) and the emissions level is 51 g/km CO2.” Fisker Automotive was quoted as saying it “believed” the car would get better mileage than what both TÜV and EPA measured.

So what went wrong? Well, you have probably read about it before, but the jist of it is, that the car was half-baked (poor execution: a trademark of Danish car production) when launched, and since the car’s price point made it available only to the rich and powerful, stories soon emerged about the car’s problems. First there were recalls of the battery pack. Then later, it became evident that a design flaw gave the car a tendency to overheat and even bust into flames. There is an irony in cars built to combat global warming overheating, but it gets better (for those who want a good story – not for those who are Henrik Fisker. For him it gets much worse).

So Fisker Automotive worked hard to solve the issue all while fighting bankruptcy. It did manage to improve cooling and was ready to fix a host of recalled cars – 338 to be exact – when disaster struck: 16 Fisker Kamas burned up while waiting to be fixed so that they would not burn up. Alanis Morissette could not write a better song about irony than this.

And it gets better: You see, what caused the fire was Hurricane Sandy, and Hurricane Sandy is believed to have become that strong due to an unusually high water temperatures in the Atlantic, and some believe that the increase in temperature was due to global warming – and what was the motivation for buying a Karma? That’s right, the urge to combat global warming (and look good doing it).

So, less than half a year after the fire, Fisker resigned, and soon after that Fisker Automotive filed for bankruptcy. Guess who bought the estate: the Wanxiang Group, the automotive supplier group that owns A123, the company responsible for the faulty batteries causing the first recalls of the Karma. Fisker Automotive was taken over by the company in part responsible for it folding. How’s that for irony?

Subsequently, the Wanxiang Group founded Karma Automotive and builds an updated Fisker Karma to this day under the name Karma Revero. Henrik Fisker, meanwhile, founded Fisker Inc. and this is where I am starting to lose interest, but he seems to still be pursuing car building in various forms. I hope he comes up with something ambitious and electric; the surefire way to success.


Previous installments:

Danish Delights #1: 1950 Sommer S1

Danish Delights #2: 1960 Volvo Special

Danish Delights #3: 1972 Sommer Joker

Danish Delights #4: 1981 OScar

Danish Delights #5: 1967 SVJ 1000 GT

Danish Delights #6: 1987 Ellert

Danish Delights #7: 1998 Kewet

Danish Delights #8: 1888 Hammelvognen

Danish Delights #9: 1983 Hope Whisper

Danish Delights #10: 1999 Connector 2001