Less than two years after founding Fisker Automotive in Irvine, Calif., CEO Henrik Fisker unveiled his first production-ready Karma plug-in hybrid sedan today at the 2009 North American auto show in Detroit.
The 2010 Karma blends advanced eco-friendly technology with luxury in ways even Lexus — by far the leader in high-end hybrids — hasn’t been able to do, sending a wake-up call to blue-blood, ultraluxury brands Bentley, Ferrari, Lamborghini and others, which lag in developing alternative-fuel technology.
Granted, other automakers have produced vehicles that incorporate solar panels into their roofs and use plug-in hybrid systems, as the Karma does. But they were experimental, not ready for production.
When the Fisker Karma goes on sale in November for $87,900, it will beat General Motors’ hyped-up Chevrolet Volt to market, becoming the first mass-produced plug-in electric vehicle sold in the United States.
The Karma embodies Fisker Automotive’s "eco-chic" manifesto. Call it a Maserati with a conscience, if you will. It promises to be as fun to drive — and to inspire as much envy — as a Ferrari while providing up to 50 miles of electric-only, emissions-free driving on a single charge. After the batteries are depleted, the gasoline engine kicks in to recharge them while driving. Fisker calls this "HEV" mode, in which the Karma behaves like current hybrids by shutting down the gasoline engine at temporary stops and capturing energy dissipated while braking and decelerating. But it’s different than existing hybrids in that the gasoline engine acts only as a power generator, and doesn’t drive the wheels.
Two electric motors send 408 horsepower and 959 lb-ft of torque to the rear wheels. Add to that 260 horses from the 2.0-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder Ecotec engine, sourced from General Motors, and the Karma rivals some of the world’s fastest, priciest sports cars for output.
It accelerates from zero to 60 mph in 5.8 seconds, and on to a top speed of 125 mph in the car’s peak-output "Sport" mode, which can be engaged during electric-only driving or in HEV mode.
The car’s default "Stealth" mode conserves energy for better mileage. In this mode, the car doesn’t accelerate as quickly, and has a lower top speed of 95 mph.
The Karma will go about 300 miles on fully charged batteries and a full gas tank. The car can recharge on a regular 110-volt household outlet or a higher-powered 220-volt socket.
The car’s hybrid system runs on a large lithium-ion battery mounted in the middle of the car for optimal weight distribution. It stores up to 22.6 kilowatt-hours of electricity.
Solar panels on the roof collect energy at a rate of half a kilowatt-hour per day, and power electronic accessories such as the stereo and climate systems while the car is on. When the car is off, the solar panels can be set to charge the battery or to run fans that cool the interior. A third setting lets the onboard computer decide how to best use energy collected by the solar panels.
The Karma will have a 4-year/40-thousand-mile, bumper-to-bumper warranty.
Fisker Automotive plans to produce 15,000 Karmas a year and has pre-orders for more than 1,003, mostly from U.S. customers. The company has signed 22 dealers and aims to have a total of 40 in the United States by the end of the year.