Fisker Karma Selling Strong in Holland, As Its Maker Eyes All of Europe

With stringent taxes penalizing big internal combustion luxury sedans in the country of Holland, Fisker Automotive’s extended-range electric Karma has managed a second-place sales spot in that segment for the first quarter of this year.

How many cars did it take to edge out the BMW 7-series, Mercedes S-class and Audi A8 while being beaten only by the Porsche Panamera in the Dutch market from January through April? Just 88 units, but this may be the first time that an ultra-low emission hybrid car has outsold combustion engine rivals in such a convincing fashion.

That said, Fisker Communications Director Roger Ormisher acknowledged it is only a qualified victory since the car was launched late last year. More significantly, he said, successes Fisker has begun to see in Europe are a portent of things to come in a legislative and social climate that is becoming increasingly friendly for Fisker’s kind of car.

European nations impose a patchwork quilt of taxes against gas guzzlers and the greenhouse gas, CO2. As you might have guessed, Holland is one country with some of the stiffest laws against these environmental detriments.

Powerful luxury cars there can see five figures tacked onto their already high price tags. So when Fisker’s Finnish-made Karma showed up with Maserati-like looks, 403 horsepower and 981 pound-feet of clean gas-electric torque, that was enough to vault it to the number two sales spot lickety split.

Ormisher said countries such as Denmark, Norway, and, really, the rest of the EU are also on their way to stacking the deck further in favor of such low-emission vehicles by penalizing cars emitting over certain limits while in cases incentivizing plug-in hybrids.

Across Europe, Ormisher said the company has sold “a few hundred” Karmas, and has around 40 dealers spread out in critical markets where it has been presented as a well-timed solution.

Although the U.S. EPA gave the Karma underwhelming economy numbers of 52 mpg equivalent on battery power, 20 mpg on gasoline only, and an electric driving range of 32 miles, the car did a lot better in European testing. The Technischer Üeberwachungs Verein (TÜV), Europe’s recognized automotive certification agency, rated it at 112 mpg combined fuel economy, just 51 g/km CO2, and all-electric range at 51.6 miles.

Fisker Karmas at the Valmet plant in Finland.

We’ll add also that Europeans are not known to be stumbling as hard over American politics Fisker has had to defend itself against. Some U.S. media outlets have been making hay over such topics as Fisker’s loss of Energy Department loans, unfounded allegations of misappropriation of taxpayer money by some, and more specifically, concerns that the taxpayer dollars are going to Europe, among other issues.

On this last score, European manufacture may even be a bonus for European perceptions. The Karma – which is manufactured in the Valmet plant known also for exotic sports cars like the Marussia B2, electric vehicles, as well as over a quarter million Porsche Caymans and Boxters, is a proposition being well received.

But in its defense against critics, Fisker has said that it initially attempted to contract with American automakers for assembly line space until it could refurbish its wholly owned former General Motors Boxwood plant in Wilmington, Del., but it was turned away. Further the Energy Department knew fully of its manufacturing plans prior to loan agreements, and their actual withdrawal was due to missed deadlines.

And true enough, Fisker has had its share of hurdles including Karma price increases, minor recalls – and most recently, a house fire question that’s still awaiting resolve.

Fisker is waiting to launch the Surf. It and a Cabriolet variant were both penned at the same time as the Karma and based on the same chassis and powertrain.

Beyond those challenges, the company has had to face a daunting legislative environment – with over 70,000 pages of regulations to be in compliance with and media environment – with speculative reporters amplifying every foible.

Nonetheless, Ormisher said Fisker has not changed its goal to build an American green car brand intended to bring jobs here, but it will be a global brand too, and its CEO Tom LaSorda said Europe will continue to be a focal point following successes including those in Holland.

“This is a great achievement for Fisker and signals the potential demand in Europe, where we intend to sell 40 percent of our output,” LaSorda said. “It is an encouraging sign of progress following the Karma launch. But we have much more to do as we bring new models to market.”

Like Tesla Motors, Fisker is seeking to establish design and engineering credibility out of the gate by starting with the higher end of the market.

Its pending Atlantic is to be priced more in line with the Chevy Volt, and the company has said it will produce these next year, leading to other variants, and models further down market.

One advantage Fisker’s extended-range cars have is the same one GM touts for its Volt – no range anxiety, as gasoline backup is included.

The Atlantic is to sport a BMW 2.0-liter turbo range extender, A123 System batteries, and to be built in Wilmington, Del.

Evidence that the business plan and cars are good comes in part from the fact that the U.S. government did initially agree to loan it $529 million, and that the company has garnered around a billion in private capital investments to date – but that the road has been bumpy is without question.

Assuming things smooth out in the U.S. as they already are in other regions of the world, Fisker does intend to sell around 60 percent of its production in the U.S.

We will continue to follow this green car company as more information comes along.

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