It seems Fisker is finally succumbing to the relentless seas of misfortune. It’s been battered by storms, supplier problems and financial troubles. Founder Henrik Fisker has fled. Its workforce has been laid off. Nearly all of them. Things are grim. But should petrol-guzzling, tire-burning, fire-breathing gear heads like you care? Yes. Yes, you should.
You should care about Fisker for one simple reason: It’s disruptive. The automotive industry is big, old and stagnant. It moves at a glacial pace and changes very little. Fisker, and other new car companies, are free to innovate, to explore new technology, and to do crazy things like use a turbocharged Pontiac Solstice engine just to spin a generator.
But let’s back up. What, exactly, happened? Some of the first Karmas had a faulty hose clamp that could cause coolant to leak into the battery compartment. Then a few of the cars burst into flames without warning. A recall ensued. Then Fisker’s battery manufacturer, A123, went bankrupt, causing a crippling battery shortage. Then Superstorm Sandy totaled more than 300 brand-new Karmas at a port in New Jersey. Then the Department of Energy froze Fisker’s massive $528 million loan. Finally, Fisker himself stepped down as head of the company mid March, citing a disagreement with the rest of Fisker management.
Then, of course, there were rumors that the Chinese were going to buy out Fisker and save the day. Fisker co-founder Bernhard Kohler even said in an interview with Auto Bild that Chinese automaker DongFeng submitted a bid to bail the company out. No one knows, however, if the deal will go through.
Last week, even more bad news: Fisker laid off 160 employees on a calm Friday morning. Right now it looks like Fisker is going away. And that makes me sad.
The Karma is a beautiful car. An impractical, silly, insane and beautiful car. It weighs an absurd 5,300 pounds, yet can magically accelerate to 60 mph in just 6.3 seconds. It can only travel 32 miles on its massive batteries, after which time it revs up a 2-liter, 260-horsepower GM Ecotec four cylinder for juice. And revs up it does, sustaining a blistering wail regardless of throttle position. It is 16 feet long, yet has less luggage space than a MINI. It has 22-inch wheels. It is a Hot Wheels car writ large. And I love it.
It’s a shame that such a technologically advanced and stupendously ludicrous vehicle will be lost to bad luck and poor management. Automobiles are more than economically sensible means of transportation. They’re expressions of speed and power and beauty. They’re mobile art. We need more cars like the Karma, even if they aren’t economical, practical or even viable business propositions. Because, simply put, they’re inspiring.