Fisker Tries To Create Distance from Tesla

It’s not surprising that Fisker Automotive and Tesla Motors—two California-based makers of high-end electric-drive sports cars—are viewed as similar companies. Fisker makes an $87,000 plug-in hybrid and Tesla produces a $109,000 all-electric roadster. But Henrik Fisker, founder of the Southern California-based company that bears his name, this week was in Northern California where Tesla is based, to explain how and why the two companies are different.

To Fisker, it’s a matter of technology and market potential. “The full-electric car [like the Tesla Roadster] is a niche market. Plug-in hybrids have a much bigger market,” said Fisker, speaking at a meeting of the Western Automotive Journalists association. He added that the growth potential of the plug-in hybrid market is what has helped his company to secure venture capital financing for their project.

Henrick Fisker Driving Karma height="174" />

Three distinct markets of electric-drive vehicles are expected to gain momentum in the coming years: conventional gas-electric hybrids, plug-in hybrids, and all-electric cars. Many analysts believe that Prius-style hybrids will experience the most dramatic growth, followed by plug-in hybrids—with all-electric cars selling at lower numbers. The market for all-electric cars may be limited due to limited driving range.

Considering the larger market for plug-in hybrids compared to electric cars, Fisker believes that his company has a better business model than his competitor. His current goal is 15,000 annual sales of the Fisker Karma, a four-door sleek sports car. Fisker’s factory under contract in Finland—which also makes the Porsche Boxster and Cayman—can produce a maximum of 20,000 units annually. “We have a new business model. At 5,000 sales, we can make money,” which for now is fine with him. But Fisker is already looking several steps ahead.

“A growth strategy is the key to venture capital,” Fisker said. Even though the Karma isn’t due to hit the market until spring 2010, the company is planning its next vehicle. Fisker was light on details, but said it would be “lower in price, a mass market vehicle with high volume using common components with the Karma. There’s no reason we can’t eventually produce hundreds of thousands of cars a year.”

Despite Fisker’s statements, the two companies have followed nearly identical business plans thus far. Tesla has also raised significant venture capital, has plans for a future more affordable mass-market sedan, claims that profitability is possible with low sales volumes and hopes to use government loans to augment their venture capital. Just last week, Elon Musk, chief executive of Tesla, claimed that the company will become profitable this month, even though it has only sold about 500 units and is struggling to reach its production goal of 1,000 units per year.

Henrick Fisker Driving Karma height="174" />

If Fisker can make the transition to a more affordable mass-produced plug-in hybrid, its competition would shift from fellow start-ups to much larger companies, possibly even General Motors. Nevertheless, Fisker doesn’t see the Chevy Volt, a plug-in hybrid employing a technology design similar to the Fisker Karma, as competition. “It’s a Chevy,” he said, suggesting that his luxury plug-in hybrid will be clearly distinguished from a mainstream brand like Chevrolet.

There is some irony in his putdown of Chevy, because the Karma’s internal combustion engine is sourced from GM. The Karma will use the 2.0-liter turbocharged direct injection four-cylinder engine—currently found in the Pontiac Solstice—to recharge the vehicle’s batteries after approximately 50 miles of all-electric driving.


  • ACAGal

    GM actually was using Quantum to supply parts, modify and test the Hydrogen SUVs that GM used to test Hydrogen (Equinox, Sequel). Somehow the VP who was supposed to be designing the Volt, ignored the advancement Quantum had made, in the drive(Q-drive). Fisker saw the speed and strength of the engineering, signing up QTWW long before GM saw what might have been. I think it is not a comment about the Volt, it is more specific……

  • tom gray

    It’s ironic that the least technically sophisticated car on the planet (the Tesla roadster with its 8000 flashlight batteries) is considered the opposite by the brainless media, mostly, is seems, because a bunch of dimwitted entertainment folks, (starting with Letterman), have attempted to greenwash their image while
    simultaneously looking cool in their Lotus designed Tesla. Musk’s claim the be profitable after 500 cars means they are charging way too much, or , as usual, aren’t telling the truth.

  • mal

    As long as gas remains dirt cheap, he’s right.

  • RKRB

    Let’s hope Fisker or Toyota can bring an interesting, reliable plug-in hybrid that will establish a good image for the concept (much like the Prius and the original Insight did for the hybrid concept). The General Motors Volt would seem a poor bet to do this — GM has a disappointingly poor track record of manufacturing reliable newly introduced models, of engineering successful new designs, of building any good economical car, or of following through on their successful innovations. GM would likely botch the concept badly enough to scare people away from plug-ins for many years (just as GM diesel cars helped scare people away from diesels for so many years). GM may well change things with the Volt, but this is an even more chancy bet now that they have Congress within their management layer. It’s indeed ironic that Fisker is using a GM engine, which seems an exception to the general rule, but perhaps this engine will have better results with the Karma than with its intended vehicles, the GM sports cars (which will probably be canceled by GM’s new managers — an example of an expensive, carefully designed, eagerly anticipated, fairly decent bit of engineering that GM somehow managed to lose money on). Well, it’s disappointing.
    Hope Fisker does well (and Tesla and GM too).

  • ex-EV1 driver

    I have to take issue with the author’s mis-statement that:
    “Fisker makes an $87,000 plug-in hybrid and Tesla produces a $109,000 all-electric roadster.”

    Lets get the imporant facts straight in the whole article. The biggest difference is that Fisker talks about making a car while Tesla actually is delivering their 2nd and 3rd generation models NOW.
    Tesla Roadsters are in active use by ecstatic customers today. Fisker is just talk.