Published October 23, 2012
By Jeff Cobb
As extended-range electric vehicle maker Fisker Automotive works to roll out its Karma, raise funds for its potentially Chevy Volt beating Atlantic, and grow its global sales, it has sought to prove its message and business model, knowing full well it has its share of detractors.
The company has had to put out public relations fires – and two literal fires have occurred – one necessitating a recall of a potentially over-heating fan. But despite naysayers, some of whom are politically motivated, seemingly suspicious and hoping to be able to say “I told you so,” Fisker has ducked its head, aiming to create more affordable, gas-saving, environmentally responsible variants.
To date, it has overcome all setbacks and delays, and remained reasonably clean looking after the worst mud thrown by those heaping all manner of allegations against Fisker’s quality, ideas, and even its integrity.
“There are a lot of skeptics and that’s fine, said Global Communications Director, Roger Ormisher in an interview Friday, “We’re OK with the skeptics because I think they make things more interesting and we continually prove the skeptics wrong. I mean I think they thought we’d be out of business [by now] and that is not the case.”
This is not to say Fisker welcomes outright bashing, slander or misrepresentation of its motives such as GM and the Volt have also had to endure, along with other companies that have taken Obama-endorsed taxpayer money to fund – for purposes his administration and supported clean energy startups contend – of creating better solutions.
Rather, Fisker says it aims to prove itself as a new kind of American-based, worldwide-selling car producer. It – and a substantial venture capital base that goes beyond now cut-off public funding – believes its designs are solid and sustainable. Next up on its car launch roster is the delayed Atlantic – an extended-range EV the company’s new CEO Tony Posawatz said would start at around $55,000, and be in production by 2014 or 2015.
Ormisher said contrary to recent reports stating the car was due in 2013 and is now delayed by two years, even prior to loss of U.S. Energy Department funding, the Atlantic would not have been in drivers hands much before early to mid-2014.
"Everyone got that story wrong," he said. And so, while late, it's not that late.
In any event, the Atlantic promises a compelling mix of attributes. Slated for American manufacture at Fisker’s wholly owned plant in Wilmington, Del., the company is yet weighing options to produce elsewhere if necessary, but Ormisher has again been repeating “our first priority” is to build it where it has intended to if at all possible.
"We’ve been very clear about that in the last couple weeks," he said.
And, as reported, Fisker is still seeking more funding to make it happen. Its latest fundraising round saw it gain another $100 million added to over $1.2 billion from private investors rooting for it even as the U.S. Energy Department has shied away from its former support. Ormisher said Fisker would announce by year’s end where the car will be built.
Also to be determined are such details as battery supplier, fuel and emissions efficiency, and performance specs. But the sheet metal you see is pretty well set, as is fundamental architecture including a 2.0-liter twin-scroll turbo BMW-sourced range extender that promises to make this capable of trouncing a Volt in any speed contest, and possibly in efficiency and electric range as well.
Fisker is not merely targeting the Volt, however, and in fact has not explicitly talked about the Volt in conversation, unless asked – at which point it concedes it is on the radar. But beyond that, the exact blend of qualities this car is intended to have will be to attract sales away from internal combustion vehicles as well. The Atlantic's value proposition will therefore be balanced between a pretty face, quality interior and functionality, outstanding performance, fuel economy, emissions and all-electric range. The car is about 90-percent complete, and Ormisher said Fisker is gunning to hold its own in handling and speed performance against such vehicles as upper-range BMW 3-Series, lower-range 5-Series, Audi A5, Mercedes C-Class, not to mention also Japanese and American and other internal-combustion powered performance sedans.
As for the Atlantic’s plug-in competitor (and Fisker knows more are pending) the Volt stickers for roughly $40,000-$47,000 and it’s anyone’s guess what it will sell for in 2014-2015. On paper, no other car is more like it at this point than the Atlantic. By the time Fisker says the Atlantic will roll off the line, GM is expected to have launched Volt 2.0, which fittingly enough, may also sport some form of 2.0-liter inline-four engine as range extender – up from its present 1.4-liter. At least this is what rumors attributed to GM suppliers say.
GM executives have said the updated Volt is to have somewhere around $10,000 or more in production costs shaved off of the rather pricey to build first-generation version, but its range, efficiency and performance specs are a complete mystery as well.
In short, Fisker is aiming to launch its belated first-generation Atlantic into a market pioneered by GM as it launches its updated second-generation Volt. That said, Fisker won’t be launching an outdated design, Ormisher said.
Its aesthetic form, like the Karma’s, has been called “ timeless .” Finer details and performance for the Atlantic will be finalized practically up to the point of production, given that software and battery technology are continually evolving.
Ormisher says it would be to the company’s detriment to claim specific all-electric range, MPGe or CO2 emissions for this car as by the time its is on the assembly line, the aim is to beat what it could do today.
Its aforementioned speed potential – also in general terms – will come from the very powerful but efficient German range-extender married to expected-to-be potent battery pack. It will, like the Karma, have a capability GM presently does not allow with its one and only Voltec model – the Atlantic can use both gas plus electric together for a serious kick in the pants, if desired.
Ormisher said the Atlantic will – as one would expect – weigh less than the rather portly 5,300-pound or so Karma, but as a package, will have a strong power-to-weight ratio, on par with or better than the Karma. That’s how it can target a more competitive market segment than the Karma, which is pretty much a niche vehicle.
Fisker knows it is heading into a more fought-over segment, and luxury performance sedans are strong in this upper-middle-tier range. Ormisher said the company is happy with what it has at this point in its pre-production Atlantic, and it is a car that will not need excuses.
Now that GM’s former Volt line director is at the helm, it is all the more promising that – against yet very steep odds – Fisker may yet pull off its David vs. Goliaths attempt, although as you may well know, automotive history is littered with companies that had good ideas that still went down in the end.
That said, Fisker is still looking forward to a future, attempting to learn from mistakes as well as misfortunes that were not its fault, and possibly also “history” is the Atlantic’s previously specified battery pack.
Prior reports had been that A123 System cells would be specified, but as followers of this segment know, A123 is undergoing bankruptcy due to a recall involving Fisker Karma battery packs, along with other losses, and allegations of mismanagement.
Fisker will stick with A123 as spec’d in the Karma, and it may yet use A123 cells in the Atlantic that may in time be produced by Johnson Controls, Inc., but Fisker is also looking at other suppliers to meet its criteria for the pending car.
To date, news about the Atlantic has been sparse. The company has played a close hand knowing it has opponents that would be just as happy to see it fail, and predicting it is just a matter of time until it does.
The photos posted are among the only ones we have seen. Furthermore, these images were not released until Fisker was good and ready to show them. No spy shots were known to have circulated prior to the car’s unveiling, and possibly holed away in some top-secret garage or warehouse could be two other Atlantic variants.
In all Fisker is known to have designed six models: The Karma, Karma Sunset cabriolet, Karma Surf shooting brake, Atlantic which was formerly called “Project Nina,” and similar variants of the Atlantic.
At this point, Fisker's Karma is the only representation of its ambitions in production and the Atlantic is its next step down market toward more affordable cars for more people, with presumably more down market cars to follow.
Ormisher said the company’s fastest growing market, by the way, is “probably Germany” with strong activity in eco-progressive countries like Holland, Norway, Denmark, and elsewhere in Europe. It is also pursuing business in North Africa, Middle East, China, and elsewhere.
In Europe, they have their own economic and political issues to contend with, no doubt, but they are in cases heavily incentivized to go green, and basically free from that unique brand of American political rancor up to and including recent presidential debates that fired rhetorical shots at the Irvine, Calif.-based company and others.
But with or without enemies, Fisker does have much to overcome. Full proof does remain to be seen as to how the company fares, how good the Atlantic will really be, and that quality control for the recalled-and-now-fixed Karma is finally up to speed.
Ormisher said presently Fisker directly employs around 400 people in the U.S., and is indirectly supporting 1,000 American jobs. Among those rooting for Fisker, some have said they’d think more Americans would want to support such a clean-energy manufacturer with the audacity to try and swim upstream in the business climate that is California, and the ambivalent or indifferent social climate that can be found in the U.S.
For Fisker’s part, it is playing the hand it's been dealt and continuing on its zig-zagging trajectory toward its stated goals.