Fisker has faced some tough press since the EPA announced its official ratings for the Karma luxury sports sedan in October. The EPA numbers disappointed many green car purists for being far lower than those promised by the carmaker during development of the vehicle. Officially set at 32 miles, the Karma’s range was about one-third less than the 50 miles Fisker claimed from its trials, and the EPA’s 20-mpg fuel economy rating for car in gas-only mode means it’s a bit of a gas-guzzler once the initial electric range becomes depleted.
From there, the criticisms tended to get less substantive. First there was a brief, misinformed outrage stemming from the fact that the Karma will be manufactured in Finland despite Fisker’s receipt of $529 million in loan guarantees from the Department of Energy. As those who have followed the company over the years know, Fisker intended to build the Karma in Finland all along―long before it received any federal loan guarantees―and still plans to manufacture its next vehicle at the Delaware factory it used part of that money to purchase.
Another minor controversy ensued when it was learned that the Karma will be officially classified as a subcompact despite its 5,300-lb weight and $95,900 price tag. Again, opponents of federal loans for plug-in carmakers cried foul, calling out the absurdity of federal dollars being used to subsidize such an expensive and―for most consumers―impractical vehicle. These critics might have been onto something if it were true that Fisker used any of the Department of Energy loan money to finance the Karma. (It didn’t.)
Recently though, the headlines have begun to tilt more in Fisker’s favor. First came word last week that Germany’s Technischer Überwachungs Verein (TÜV) agency had given the Karma an all-electric range of 51.6 miles under its “real-world urban” testing regimen. That rating is substantially higher than the EPA’s number, exceeding even Fisker’s early estimates.
Then on Wednesday, it was announced that Automobile magazine had named the car “Design of the Year” for 2012, calling it “a beautiful and highly dramatic automobile, unlike anything else on the road today and yet very much like dozens of the most beloved sports cars of the past.”
The accolade underscores an important point about the Karma that tends to get lost in the torrent of reactions from both eco-minded green car enthusiasts and politically-motivated naysayers: the Karma is a $96,000 luxury sports sedan and as such, it deserves to be evaluated on different terms than the Chevy Volt or Toyota Prius Plug-in. Emissions-conscious purchasers of luxury performance vehicles haven’t traditionally had many options to choose from. The Karma gives them one more, and according to Automobile magazine―and nearly everyone else who’s driven and reviewed the vehicle―it’s a pretty impressive one at that.
Fisker’s longterm success will likely be determined by appeal of its more affordable future offerings. The Karma wasn’t created to single-handedly revolutionize fuel economy or reinvigorate the American auto industry. Rather, the car hopefully serves as an indicator of the innovative design consumers can expect from Fisker’s forthcoming Project Nina vehicles, which Fisker says it plans to begin selling next year at a price in the $50,000 range. Those models will be American-built, taxpayer-financed and fair game for a much wider scope of criticisms should they fail to live up to expectations.