Back in May, when I first noticed the construction of Fisker Santa Monica, I was hoping for Instant Karma. Fisker Automotive’s debut car, an extended range electric vehicle (EVer) dubbed the Karma, was the freshest, sexiest sports sedan I’d seen in a long time. I knew that production had started in Finland (same company that built the Porsche Boxster and Cayman) and that sales were supposed to start soon, perhaps as soon as summer.
Well, the store didn’t pop up immediately, but even if it had opened early, there wouldn’t have been anything to put in the showroom as the cars didn’t start trickling into the US until the fall. So the September/October soft opening was the first opportunity the community had to see and drive the fantastic new Karma and Fisker Santa Monica, one of the newest additions to Sullivan Automotive Group’s stable, began showing it at Green car events around LA.
Michael Sullivan’s Sullivan Automotive Group does business under the LACarGuy.com banner. Many of you probably bought your car from one of his local dealerships, including Volkswagen Santa Monica, Lexus Santa Monica, Toyota Santa Monica and Toyota of Hollywood (Toyota’s first store in the US).
The location at the corner of Santa Monica Boulevard and 25th Street in Santa Monica has its own good Karma. In 1985, it was the site of Sullivan’s Hyundai dealership (no longer part of the group) and in 1989, Sullivan hit the jackpot with the opening of his Lexus franchise. Sullivan rode the meteoric rise of the Lexus brand from the beginning, and now, Lexus Santa Monica, in its new digs at 1501 Santa Monica Blvd, is a classy monument to success.
More recently, the site was used as the internet sales office for the neighboring Volkswagen Santa Monica dealership, itself a good luck talisman as it was the dealership that started the Sullivan family in the auto dealership business in 1964. In fact, if you go out the side door of the Fisker store you’re in the pre-owned VW parking lot.
Fisker Automotive has had quite a colorful rise, and it’s not without controversy. Founded in 2007 and still privately held, Fisker accepted a federal Department of Energy loan of $528 million which it used to buy a defunct GM manufacturing plant in Delaware. Fisker is in the process of adapting the plant to manufacture the Project Nina, a more affordable, mass-market plug-in sedan around the size of a BMW 5-series. Fisker has signed an agreement with BMW to provide up to 100,000 2.0 liter 4-cylinder turbo gas engines, so no more GM units. Pricing hasn’t been announced, but it should be less than half the price of the Karma.
Many question Fisker’s ability to repay the loan; however Fisker optimistically projects production (and hopefully sales) of between 75,000 and 100,000 units by 2014. That’s only two years away, and we have yet to see any concept pictures.
The upcoming Karma variants, the Sunset, a convertible Karma and the Surf, a shooting brake (wagon) version of the Karma will be produced in Finland. Projected volume is 15,000 units a year.
Over the Karma’s gestation period, the price has gone up (no surprise) and when the EPA rated it at 52 MPGe (a combined gasoline an electric driving range), some were disappointed. On gas power alone, the car was rated at 20 mpg – ouch! But what do you expect for a 5,300 pound sports car? The EPA estimates the Karma will travel 32 miles on electrons before switching to the gasoline hybrid mode, although Fisker thinks that number is closer to 50 miles. Only time will tell.
More recently, there has been an issue surrounding the Karma’s batteries. A123 Systems says it has identified a possible safety problem with the cooling system on the batteries it supplies for the Karma. Hose clamps on some of the cooling lines are not properly aligned, which could lead to a leak and an electrical short circuit.
Massachusetts-based A123 (also a recipient of a federal DOE loan of $249 million) says that the problem only affects around 50 Karmas. A123 and Fisker are already implementing the “fix” and neither company believes it will affect sales of the Karma.
Fisker is projecting 2012 sales of the plug-in Karma of 10,000 – 12,000 units, down from a more optimistic 15,000. However A123 is projecting sales of 5,000 – 7,000 based on its own internal metrics. For the sake of jobs and the economy, I hope Fisker’s estimates are closer to reality.
The Karma is similar to the Chevy Volt in that it’s a plug-in electric vehicle that uses a gasoline engine to power a generator to extend the total range. The Karma is powered by dual electric traction motors on the rear wheels, unlike the front-drive Chevy. The gas engine never actually powers the wheels, just the electricity generator. You can plug it into a standard 110 volt wall socket or use an industry standard 220 v charging port. The 20.1 kWh battery pack can fully charge in 6 hours with the 220 juice.
Fisker says the EV range is 50 miles with an additional 250 miles available (total range 300 miles) when using the 2.0L direct-inject turbo engine supplied by GM. The electric traction motors produce around 400 hp and a marquis 959 lb-ft of torque. Zero to 60 is 6.1 seconds. I am, at heart, a torque junky, so inject me with nearly 1,000 lb-ft of torque and I’m high as a kite.
You can drive the Karma in “Stealth” mode (which is using the battery alone) or in “Sport” mode which allows more electrons to flow to the motor and the gas engine kicks earlier and more frequently. Expect your range to shrink if you drive in sport mode with a lead foot.
The interior is a splendid place to spend time. All the materials look and feel rich, the switchgear has a bespoke aura and nothing looks like a cheap parts bin collaboration. It’s filled with beautiful recycled materials, including the superb wood trim. You’d never know it was a sustainable interior at first impression; but it’s great bragging rights at the next Heal the Bay fundraiser.
You sit low, in true sports car fashion and the car oozes class while screaming “Look at Me, I’m Driving an Electric Car.”
The battery runs down the center spine of the car and when you sit inside, you definitely notice its prominence. In the back seat, you feel a bit claustrophobic between the sloping roof, relatively cramped space and the large battery hugging you from the center.
Hey, all you Hollywood celebrities and Industry power brokers, you can finally ditch the Prius, the car you drive only to burnish your Green Creds, and pull up to BOA Steakhouse or The Ivy in your Karma. You’ll get front and center placement by the valets. That alone is worth the $100k price of admission.
The Karma comes in 3 trim levels: EcoStandard, EcoSport and EcoChic. Fisker doesn’t post prices on its website; but Edmunds.com lists the EcoStandard at $95,900, the EcoSport at $103,900 and the EcoChic at $108,900. The ones I saw in the showroom were at least $107,000. Just so you know, the EcoChic model is “animal free” – which I assume means no cows were sacrificed to upholster the interior.
Whatever the 2012 sales projections are for the Karma, I’m confident that Fisker Santa Monica will be Fisker’s sales champ. Comfortably situated in the People’s Republic of Santa Monica where hybrids are the norm, not a curiosity or anomaly, the Karma is the perfect green answer to a Maserati Quattroporte, a Porsche Panamera or a Mercedes SL. The Karma is half the price of an Aston Martin Rapide and it may be more exclusive.
According to the sales staff, all the cars in Fisker Santa Monica’s showroom were pre-sold; however, if you wanted to drive one, they have demos. Much of the Karma’s first year production has already been reserved, but fear not, they are still taking orders – just bring your checkbook. And I’m sure they can accommodate Leonardo DiCaprio when his business manager calls looking for one.