Posts Tagged ‘Car Dealers’

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.2012 Fisker Karma

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 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 banner lets you know that Fisker Santa Monica is open and ready for business.

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.

The Fisker badge on the hood of a Karma

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.

Fisker Karma's EPA label

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.

The front of the Fisker Karma screams unique and sporty. I love the Salvador Dali moustache grille.

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.

The Fisker Karma's engine bay with a 2.0L direct-inject turbo GM engine.

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.

Fisker Karma cockpit

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 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.

Fisker Santa Monica showroom. Check out those recycled wood floors. Gorgeous.

Fisker Santa Monica's showroom has a few cars for you to see and touch.

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.

Fisker Karma, rear

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.

I know GM has had a hard time here in LA.  Even though GM now has compelling and competitive cars in the market, it’s tough to sell cars to zombies under the spell of Toyota and Honda.  To state the obvious, GM has no one to blame but itself for the horrible products it sold over the past 35 years. Year after year, generations of Southern Californians deserted GM’s crappy products and ran into the waiting clutches of the reliable, inexpensive Japanese imports.

Slowly, GM is rebuilding trust with a new generation of customers here in So Cal; but dealer choices are still pretty sparse in Metro LA.   For a while now, I’ve been fixated with the GM (Chevrolet-Buick) dealership in Santa Monica because it’s the closest dealer to me and something I drive by often. Santa Monica Chevrolet-Buick was located on a small corner lot on Santa Monica Blvd at Centinela on the eastern edge of Santa Monica (90404).   The shallow lot left little room for inventory let alone a large number of service bays.  Hell, the Land Rover dealer two blocks away has a larger, much nicer facility.

Santa Monica Chevrolet-Buick was only in business for five or six years before it seemingly disappeared overnight earlier this year and morphed into Santa Monica Infiniti.  But it didn’t disappear – it’s hiding in plain sight – or so I’m told.

To look at the dealership, you'd be hard pressed to think that any GM products were being sold there.

After Infiniti took over, the old GM logos (Chevy, Buick and Oldsmobile) were removed from the top of the building.  At first, only the large Infiniti logo and “Infiniti” lettering appeared over the showroom entrance.  A cheap temporary banner for Santa Monica Infiniti covered the GM brands at the top of the building.  About a month ago, signage reading “Santa Monica” appeared in place of the then-tattered banner.

The new "Santa Monica" lettering is nice and clear. Still no hint at any affiliation with GM.

Over the summer, I stopped at the Infiniti dealer to check into whether or not it was still a Chevy-Buick dealership. I was accosted by a slimy salesman who didn’t like the fact I was taking pictures; but, he reassured me that it was still a Chevy-Buick dealership. I drove home and checked the official websites for Chevrolet and Buick; but only Chevrolet listed the Santa Monica location as a dealer.  If I were a customer I would have been hard-pressed to find the dealer at this address. You had to look closely to see the few small GM signs around the service entrance.

That was then.  Now, today, when I checked the factory websites, neither Chevrolet nor Buick lists a Santa Monica location.  Next, I did a Google search for Santa Monica Chevrolet and found some old listings.  I called the old number: 310 828-4424 and it was answered by an operator who identified the business as “Santa Monica Auto Group.”  I asked her if they still had a Chevrolet dealership and if so what was the location. She said there was still a Chevrolet dealership and it was located on Santa Monica Blvd at Centinela Ave.  It’s like the Infiniti dealer is embarrassed by the Chevy-Buick franchise, pushing it over to a tiny, obscure parking lot on the west side of the property. Very strange.

About a month ago, a new tombstone Chevrolet sign was installed at the entrance to service.  I have yet to see either the Chevrolet or Buick logo appear on the small glass and stucco crap-box of a building.  The new Chevrolet sign says that this is still a GM “authorized dealer.”  What does it means when your location is no longer listed on the official websites of the brands you claim to represent?

This is the new Chevrolet tombstone sign recently installed to remind customers that a dealership still exists on the site. It's not very noticable unless you're stuck in westbound traffic on Santa Monica Blvd.

I took pictures of the Chevrolet-Buick “inventory.”  I didn’t see any Buicks and only about a dozen Chevys, including the two red Corvettes by the sidewalk. Now, let’s be clear: real estate is very expensive in Santa Monica and it’s extremely common for dealers to keep lots of inventory at remote, usually covered, car parks. But I’ve never seen a franchise for such a large mainstream brand like Chevrolet relegated to a dozen cars parked on a cracked, uneven, barely-paved side lot. They don’t even get showroom space – at least not the day I drove by.

You can easily see the two red Corvettes in front; but the entire "lot" is only two cars wide and about six deep.

Here's a different view of the Chevrolet "lot." The yellow stucco building in the back is a residential apartment building, so you can see how shallow the commercial lot is.

Here's a look from a distance at the Chevrolet section of the dealership. Notice that there are no signs on the service entrance to indicate anything other than Infiniti.

If this is still considered a Chevrolet-Buick franchise by someone, I think it’s the smallest one in the United States. It’s also an embarrassment to the brands and maybe that’s the reason they’ve been delisted from the corporate websites. I’d love to hear from anyone who has bought a Chevy or Buick (or any GM vehicle) from this dealer recently.