Posts Tagged ‘LACarGuy’

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.

At the beginning of 2011, I heard rumors of a Fisker store coming to town. A few weeks ago, while I was at Lexus Santa Monica testing the new 2011 Lexus CT 200h, I learned that Sullivan Automotive Group (Lexus Santa Monica’s parent) was building a Fisker store next to its Volkswagen Santa Monica dealership.

The corner of Santa Monica Blvd and 25th St

The location, at the corner of Santa Monica Blvd and 25thAve, is the old Lexus Santa Monica site that is now the internet sales department for the VW dealership. The building is relatively small, but you don’t need a large space for the Fisker brand because they only have one model, the voluptuous $95,900 – $110,000 Karma electric extended range sports car.

2012 Fisker Karma

Sullivan Automotive Group is the 33rd largest dealership group in the US (2010). In 2010, it sold a total of 21,239 units (new, used and wholesale) and had total revenue (including parts, service, etc.) of $632,338,233 – with only seven dealerships.

  1. Lexus Santa Monica
  2. Toyota/Scion Santa Monica
  3. Toyota/Scion of Hollywood
  4. Volkswagen of Santa Monica
  5. Pacific Audi
  6. Pacific Porsche
  7. Pacific Volkswagen
  8. Fisker Santa Monica (opening Spring/Summer 2011)

The group uses the catch-all website to promote its stores and, if you live in LA, you’ve seen billboards for LACarGuy and TV commercials featuring patriarch, Owner/President Michael Sullivan.  All of Sullivan’s dealerships have adopted environmentally-friendly practices, both in the showroom and in the service bays. Green is good for business these days.

LACarGuy claims that it’s the number one hybrid dealer in the world. I know the Lexus store is the number one Lexus hybrid seller in the US. So I wouldn’t be surprised if the combination of hybrid sales from the two Toyota dealerships, the Lexus store and a few niche hybrids like the VW Touareg, Porsche Cayenne, and Porsche Panamera Hybrids, put it on top. We do love our hybrids in LA.

It's a small space, but it will work just fine for Fisker

The group also has EV charging stations “live” at some of their dealerships. Odd, as none of the vehicles they sell are plug-in hybrids – yet. The Fisker Karma is a plug-in hybrid EV and the upcoming plug-in Prius will also use the charging stations.

The Fisker logo tombstone looks great.

The Fisker brand is a good fit for Sullivan Automotive and the City of Santa Monica. So far, it’s the only Fisker dealer in greater Los Angeles. The next closest store is in Orange County.

If you’ve never been to Sullivan’s flagship Lexus Santa Monica dealership, it’s worth your time to see this video. I give them props for restoring this beautiful, historic building.

The People’s Republic of Santa Monica is the perfect location for the plug-in EV Fisker Karma. It’s home to ultra-wealthy aging hippies, environmentalists and lefty socialists. Entertainment industry and creative-types populate trendy restaurants and condos. Expensive boutiques on Montana Avenue attract celebrity shoplifters. You’ll find LEED-certified buildings and the most creative, modern architecture there.

Santa Monica is home to Heal the Bay. It’s the unofficial “Home of the Homeless.” The City hosts four terrific Farmers Markets each week in three different locations. Organic and locally-sourced food is pervasive.

Santa Monica banned smoking on public beaches and the outdoor patios of restaurants. Plastic bags are banned from supermarkets. The City’s fleet of non-emergency vehicles is mostly hybrids or alternative fuel vehicles. The City’s Big Blue Buses all run on compressed natural gas (CNG). It’s not uncommon to see an old diesel Mercedes that’s been converted to run on B20 bio-diesel or used vegetable oil. The Prius appears to be the unofficial transportation appliance of Santa Monica — you can’t throw a stone in any direction without hitting one.

Santa Monica is ground zero (in the LA Metro) area for everything environmentally-friendly, progressive and “green.” There are many wealthy early adopters of EVs and other advanced hybrid technology living in or near Santa Monica.  In short, it’s the perfect market for a $100,000 extended-range electric vehicle.

She's got a sexy back too...

The Fisker Karma is a plug-in electric vehicle with a gas engine that drives a generator to charge the batteries for extended-range driving. Fisker claims the Karma can travel 50 miles on the batteries and an additional 200 miles in extended-range mode. The concept is much like the Chevy Volt; but the Karma’s execution is very different and the target audience is wealthier.

The front of the Fisker Karma - I see Salvador Dali's moustache or a Rene Magritte painting.

The Karma packs a GM Ecotec 2.0 liter direct-inject turbo I-4 engine just behind the front wheels. It drives a generator to charge the large-capacity 20 kWh lithium-ion battery pack that forms a rigid spine down the center of the car. The Karma is a proper rear-drive sports car (albeit a bit heavy at 4,100 lbs) driven by rear-mounted dual 300 kW electric motors good for a total of 403 hp with a heart-stopping 981 lb-ft torque available from the moment your foot hits the electron exciter. The Karma seats four adults and can hit 60 mph in 5.9 seconds.

The sumptious interior of the Karma. It looks like a nice place to spend time.

Fisker Automotive got more than $500 million from the Department of Energy to build the Karma in the US. Fisker bought a shuttered GM plant in Delaware and is in the process of converting it into a shiny modern factory to produce its sleek sports car. It’s going to have to sell lots of cars to pay back its investors.

Solar panels on the Karma help charge the batteries even when it's parked.

Below is the Fisker Karma’s first “Get Hot” commercial:

In the meantime, the Karma is being built in Uusikaupunki, Finland by contract manufacturer Valmet Automotive. Valmet also builds the Boxster/Caymen line for Porsche at this plant. The Karma began production on March 21, 2011 so deliveries may happen as soon as this summer. I’m sure Fisker Santa Monica is taking orders. Just have your checkbook ready.

Karma 1 rolls off the assembly line in Finland

Motor Trend’s Technical Editor, Kim Reynolds, gives his take on the Karma: