The Car That Will Save Our Souls?
Fisker’s sleek hybrid Karma will pave the way for the everyman’s Nina, putting Delaware autoworkers back on track and helping drivers save the planet—while looking damned good.
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“There are some real limitations on the plug-ins, having to do with having someplace to plug it in. Obviously a garage is the best place, but if you don’t have a garage, maybe a driveway will do it, but then you’re running cords out there. Anybody who lives in a big city, unless there is some kind of charging unit or a wall plug that they can plug into, it just makes life more complicated.”
Fisker dealers are expected to have charging stations. (Ursomarso says Union Park will have two stations.) Fisker also claims the Karma will have a total range of 300 miles. After the first 50 miles on the tailpipe-emission-free electric-only charge, the range-extending gasoline engine turns on to add 250 miles.
With carmakers under pressure from government regulators to develop vehicles that use little or no gasoline and emit minimal harmful gases, competition in the electric and hybrid markets is growing. Toyota, Honda, Ford and GM all have hybrids on the market, and all are different from each other.
In July, Toyota, the world’s largest seller of hybrid autos, upped the ante by partnering with Tesla, the Palo Alto, California, maker of the $109,000 electric Roadster. According to Bloomberg Businessweek, Toyota bought a $50 million stake in Tesla for a joint venture aimed at developing a car that costs about $40,000, with 150 miles of driving range per charge.
Tesla has never turned a profit, and lost $55.7 million last year. After causing a stir by going public in June—the first IPO by an American car maker since Ford in 1956—Tesla stock spiked, then quickly dropped below its offering price.
The company has sold only about 1,200 cars worldwide. By comparison, the Karma, priced about $30,000 below the Tesla product, is targeted for 15,000 units in the first year. Meanwhile, reports are that Fisker may be considering an IPO of its own.
Whatever Fisker’s future may hold, its presence at the old Boxwood site will pump major dollars into the state’s economy almost immediately. Fisker chose the plant for several reasons. “Of all the plants we looked at, Wilmington best fit our business model,” says Koehler. “At 3.2 million square feet, it’s a perfect size for us to grow into. And more than half our production will be exported, so proximity to ports was a priority. Having been closed only a short time meant it hasn’t deteriorated, and we could quickly and relatively inexpensively bring it back on line. Its world-class paint facility was especially attractive.
“But perhaps most important was that we knew Delaware would have many experienced and skilled auto builders eager to again build world-class American cars.”
Local United Auto Worker officials have worked closely with Koehler, as well as Delaware officials such as DEDO director Alan Levin. Says Dave Myers, president of U.A.W. Local 435, “All the players know one another.”
Myers is optimistic about Fisker’s future. “They’re car people,” he says, “and they’ve done all their homework.” He adds that success won’t depend only on sales in the U.S. market, since 60 percent of production is expected to be exported.
Joe Riccio, chairman of local 435, believes Fisker’s presence offers Delaware entrée into “a brand new industry.”
“The potential here is beyond belief,” he says, adding that when GM was in full production, “It brought $147 million a year into the state’s economy.”
Checkbook in hand, Andy Brockson is ready to do his part. He knows he won’t take delivery soon, but he’s willing to be patient for what he calls “the wave of the future” and “a bargain.”
“I don’t think they’ve overpriced the Karma at all, what with the look of it, the amenities inside,” he says. “I expect that the performance and the handling are going to be really good. And with 403 horsepower, it’s going to be fast.”
As for the environmental niceties, the non-tree-hugger says, “I don’t really care that the wood came from some tree fire in California. I just think it’s a real cool car, and I can’t wait to show it off to the neighbors.”