With first deliveries of the £80,000 Fisker Karma range-extender hybrid beginning this month, Henrik Fisker is about to find out whether the company he built from scratch sinks or swims. But with funding already secured not only for the Karma (read our first drive here) and its derivatives, but also for the next model, known as project Nina, things are looking promising. We find out about the Hollywood elite that were first in line for the Karma, and how Fisker doesn't see Tesla as a rival at all.
When exacty do first deliveries of the Karma begin?
Deliveries begin in America in just a few weeks - our very first car in fact is for Leonardo DiCaprio, but other notable buyers include Al Gore, Colin Powell and the Prince of Denmark. The first cars arrive in Europe in August and the UK in September, although there's non right hand drive version. At the moment we're only building around five cars a week, but by November that will be ramped up to more like 300 a week.
What type of customers do you seem to be attracting?
Half are supercar enthusiasts, half are conscious of their environmental impact, but still want a nice car. That's the thing about the Karma, because it's so different to anything else out there, even non car enthusiasts are getting excited about it. However, most of us customers already own a large Mercedes or Porsche Panamera. With the Karma, we're redefining what luxury is - it's no longer leather seats and electric windows, you can get those things in a Kia, it's about having something that very few other people have.
How many orders have you taken for the Karma so far?
Probably over 3,000, but I don't like quoting these sort of figures as fact - people can still pull their order for a car at anytime.
Will there be other derivatives of the Karma?
Yes, in fact you can expect to see the first derivative of the Karma very soon. I can't say too much, but it's very hot, very different and something designers often dream about building but rarely get the chance. The key to our strategy is that we designed the Karma with all its derivatives in mind right from the outset, that saves huge amounts of time and money further down the line.
Do you see the forthcoming Tesla Model S Saloon as a rival?
No, not really. For a start it's a good chunk cheaper than the Karma, but the definition of a rival is that we're competing for the same customers. As we're both recent start up companies what we both need to do is steal sales from established manufacturers. There are similarities between the two companies though - I can't think of any other companies in recent times that have secuired around $1 billion in funding apart from Tesla and ourselves. There was a window around three years ago to get ahead with new technology and we took it, I think that's closed now because the major manufacturers have caught up.
What makes Fisker Automotive different?
The fact that our cars can be adopted with no compromise. The Karma will charge up in five and a half hours and travel 50 miles in electric-only Stealth mode. But when the batteries run low the range-extender engine kicks in, driving a generator and keep the batteries charged. Switch to Sport mode and the engine will speed up and the battery charge will actually increase as your driving along.
What can you tell us about your next model, project Nina?
It will be half the price of the Karma and on sale in 2013, based on an all-new platform. The plan is to build 100,000 units a year eventually and there will be several derivatives, too. Traditionally making smaller and cheaper cars more advanced is a no-go, but it will feature an upgraded version of the Karma's powertrain. With new technology you have to go with whatever the most advanced solution available to you is. The first finished prtotype is ready and will running by the end of the year - it will be the most radical four-door family saloon ever, but we'll be keeping it under wraps until the end of next year.
How is the dealer network shaping up?
We already have 45 dealers in the US, 45 in Europe and 20 in China signed up. All of those have bought the servicing equipment too and are currently being trained - amazing when you thing we've had to set all this up before we've even sold one car. We 've shown dealers the Nina and all the derivatives, so clearly it's got them excited.
Is there scope for a third, even cheaper, model range?
Yes there is definitely scope to move even further down in price. We will always be a premium brand, but as technology improves that's the way it will be heading. Once we get to this point of mass-production it's possible to imagine a strategic partnership with a larger manufacturer, but for the moment we want to stay independent.
Can you envisage an all-electric Fisker in the future?
Eventually pure-electric cars will take a sizeable share of the new car market, but not for 10 years at least. Until then range-extender hybrids will be the fastest growing automotive technology, because they can be adopted immediately without any sacrifice form the driver.