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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When word of Fisker’s interest got out, Governor Jack Markell’s administration, along with the state’s congressional delegation, County Executive Chris Coons and the United Auto Workers, put on a full-court press. They soon hammered out an offer Fisker couldn’t refuse. The Delaware Economic Development Office offered the automaker a Delaware Strategic Fund loan of $12.5 million (convertible to a grant based on when the company reaches its employment projections) for the renovation of the Boxwood Assembly Plant.
The convertible provision of the loan to a grant requires a minimum of 2,495 jobs to be created by the Boxwood Facility, of which 1,495 will be direct employment by Fisker. DEDO also offered Fisker a $9 million Delaware Strategic Fund grant to offset utility costs incurred while Fisker renovates the plant prior to startup. That’s a total of $21.5 million in state government largesse. Further sweetening the package was a five-year abatement of county taxes, which amounts to about $1.3 million over that period.
With financing secured and the plant being retrofitted, the next challenge for Fisker will be marketing the Karma and, later, the Nina. The Karma is capable of 50 miles of all-electric driving, then hundreds more miles with help from a 2-liter four-cylinder gas engine. In a series plug-in hybrid like the Karma, the wheels are driven entirely by electricity, with the engine used to extend the car's range. Theoretically, an owner could drive the vehicle without ever plugging it in, but the car would require gasoline to keep moving. Estimates have put the cost at about 75 cents per gallon to operate in electric mode. (Fisker’s Russell Datz says that charging the Karma daily will increase the average American’s electricity usage by about 25 percent (to $30 a month) and reduce gasoline consumption by about 70 percent ($80 a month), for a $50 a month net savings.
An electric-gasoline hybrid like the Prius uses a combination of electricity and gasoline to drive the wheels. Sometimes the wheels are driven by the battery, other times by the engine. The car’s computer optimizes use of both modes. The Prius was originally designed to run on electricity for the first 30 mph, then switch to the engine.
The Karma marketing campaign—“Pure Driving Passion”—kicked off July 1. As described in an adjective-laden press release, the campaign will be driven by an extensive, interactive Website and integrated social media and owners’ channels. On the site, which is chockablock with glamorous photography and video, users can go to two stylized navigation modes that reflect the sensation of driving the 403-horsepower Karma. (Real test drives have not yet been available to prospective customers.) A “Configure” section allows users to customize Karma options and submit them to their local Fisker dealer. The images and the words, such as “Designed to get you hot, not the planet,” portray the Karma as eco-chic, cool and sexy—a four-door sedan for people who want to do the right thing and look good doing it.
It’s obvious that being eco-friendly isn’t just a catch phrase at Fisker. The Karma is replete with environmentally friendly materials, such as the interior’s walnut burl and red elm wood, which was sourced from trees damaged in the 2007 Southern California wildfires. Fisker also makes sure that its suppliers are environmentally aware. “We demand that they have a specific environmental strategy in order to do business with us,” says Koehler. That also will apply to the refurbished Wilmington plant, where, he says, “We will incorporate environmentally conscious strategies whenever and wherever possible.”
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