September 26, 2012
The Fisker Follies, redux.
By Peter M. De Lorenzo
(Posted 9/25, 10:30 p.m.) Detroit. Last February, in a column entitled “Green Magic Carpet rides, etc.” I got around to dissecting Henrik Fisker and his grandiose vanity project, the Fisker Karma. That Fisker was able to talk some otherwise crafty people out of their money to finance his venture was really no big surprise. After all, there will always be rich swells loitering around trying to get even richer on a can’t-miss scheme. Even if that can’t-miss scheme has scam written all over it.
And it was no real surprise either that the U.S. Government, which had been doling out cash to “green” car start-up companies like Robin Hood dispensing coins to peasants in the town square, got caught up in the frenzy and actually awarded Fisker a $529 million loan so he could pursue his boyhood dream. Because it seemed to have enough “greenage” attached to it, right?
What has happened since then? Well, let’s see, the U.S. Government has apparently got hit with a reality stick and has canceled half of that $529 million loan to Fisker, and that has sent Fisker and his suddenly queasy minions scrambling to generate cash. Why? Because if they don’t, the company is going d-o-w-n.
Then, as if right on cue, Consumer Reports magazine weighed-in this week with a devastating assessment of the 5,500-lb., $107,850 Karma, saying that, "… it doesn't compare well with other luxury cars. ‘Although we found its ride, handling and braking performance sound and it has first-class interior materials, the Karma's problems outweighed the good,’ said Jake Fisher, Director, Consumer Reports Auto Test Center. ‘Despite the car's huge dimensions, it's very cramped inside. The overcomplicated controls are frustrating and it's hard to see out. When it's running, the gasoline engine has an unrefined roar. And the Karma's heavy weight affects agility and performance, as the Karma lacks the oomph you expect.’ "
Coupled with the fact that the magazine encountered myriad electrical failures with the Karma and “a badly-designed touch-screen system makes the dash controls an ergonomic disaster” and you have yet another rolling piece of mediocrity seemingly headed for the dustbin of automotive history.
As I said last February, “Today, egomaniacal behavior is alive and well in the auto biz. And we’re reminded of that fact with Henrik Fisker and his Fisker Automotive. A gifted designer with many design ‘hits’ on his resume, Fisker, like the storied egomaniacs from the auto industry’s past, decided that the world needed to be fluent with his vision and that if we could just see what he sees and understand the power of his brilliance, we’d all be better off.
What has Fisker come up with? A voluptuous body wrapped-around a 5,500 lb. leviathan of a car that essentially mirrors the technology offered in the Chevrolet Volt. The difference? For one the Volt is a better car by every practical, functioning measure and it’s more than $60,000 cheaper to boot. So right off the bat Fisker is operating at a slight disadvantage.”
The car business is one of the most difficult endeavors on earth. Fraught with peril at every step of the way and relentlessly complicated, this intensely competitive business offers a perennial primer on tailoring a dense concoction of complexity made up of design, engineering and advanced technology and making it into a conveyance that is not only functionally palatable to consumers but desirable as well.
But as complicated as it is, the complexity itself doesn’t actually define this business. No, it’s the rampant egos involved that really make it hum. After all, would the movie business be anything special without the egos and the back-stories? Of course not. The same can be said about the business of making cars. If it weren’t for the crazy egos at work in this business it would be decidedly boring and forgettable.
Unfortunately for the rest of us in this business Henrik Fisker’s ego has been indulged at every turn, by his colleagues, his investors and even by the U.S. Government. But that doesn’t change the fact that he’s basically just a guy with a dream of becoming a boutique luxury carmaker on someone else’s dime, like countless other dreamers who came before him and the countless others who will come after him, as sure as you’re reading this.
And I’m not denigrating those dreamers and blue-sky thinkers who are waiting to burst on the scene at any moment now, because heaven knows this business will always have a desperate need for that kind of unbridled thinking.
But Fisker? He and his “Karma” have had their fifteen minutes of this industry’s attention. We’ve seen the laudatory design studies (although at the end of the day they count for exactly zero), we’ve seen the financing come and go like the wind, and we’ve even seen green-tinged government types get all misty-eyed over the prospect of a slinky green woosh-mobile, only to back off when they discovered that there was really no “there” there.
In essence, it’s all over but the hand-wringing for Fisker and his wonder toy.
Will the Shiny Happy People out there in search of the Next Big Thing in green transportation be disappointed when Fisker Automotive falls by the wayside? Maybe for a minute or two. But then they’ll move on to the next “next” in green transportation and won’t even remember Fisker existed.
And to those precious few out there who have bought into the Fisker mystique as being some sort of Green Magic Carpet Ride masquerading as a functioning automobile, one that will not only solve all of their problems with one well-timed neighborhood drive-by but will improve their rolling green quotient exponentially, well, there’s something to be said for you… something about fools and their money.
To the rest of us in this industry who know better the “Fisker Follies” desperately need to be brought to a close, because the only thing clear about Fisker is that it is an automotive mirage that makes zero sense whatsoever: As a car, as a technological statement or even as an alleged automotive breakthrough.
It’s overweight, overwrought and the fact that even one red cent of taxpayer money ended up underwriting Fisker’s Rolling Note to Self defies comprehension.
And that’s the High-Octane Truth for this week.
See another live episode of "Autoline After Hours" with hosts John McElroy, from Autoline Detroit, and Peter De Lorenzo, The Autoextremist, and guests this Thursday evening, at 7:00PM EDT at www.autolinedetroit.tv.
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