With all the pomp and circumstance that surrounds any big economic news, Fisker Automotive of Irvine, CA announced an agreement yesterday to purchase GM's former Wilmington, DE plant where it plans to produce low-end and mid-range hybrids by 2012.
Fisker's, whose CEO is Henrik Fisker, is currently working with Valmet Automotive in Finland to produce the Karma. Production of this $87,900 upscale hybrid and its lower-cost siblings is slated to ramp up to 100,000 per year by 2012.
Indeed, just looking at the technology used by the Karma -- technology developed by Quantum Technologies -- seems to be some of the most promising hybrid technology to come out of the auto industry for some time. The Q-Drive technology developed by Quantum allows you to charge the Karma's lithium/ion battery overnight at home and if your commute is less than 50 miles -- which is true for 60 percent of commutes, according to surveys -- the engine will never come on. You'll just be driving an electric car.
Past 50 miles, the engine cuts in to become a generator for the battery pack. Of course, it also uses other techniques already developed by other hybrid manufacturers, such as regenerative braking where the engine becomes essentially a huge flywheel and any energy that is generated by braking is turned into power to recharge the battery.
The purchase of the plant, which once manufactured Saturn's Sky Roadster and Pontiac's Solstice, along with an export version for Opel, was made possible by a $528.7 million grant from the current administration.
Most of that project funding will be used to develop less expensive follow-on vehicles to the four-place Karma. Indeed, according to the automaker, the money will be used to develop Project Nina, a hybrid that is slated to have a price of about $47,000, but which will cost the consumer a tad under $39,000 thanks to the fact that it will qualify for the full $7,500 hybrid tax credit that has been dropping on some vehicles -- and has gone away on others as their numbers have built. Production of this vehicle is expected to begin sometime in 2011 says the automaker and an even more inexpensive version is expected sometime after 2012.
Calling the Karma the world's first "Eco-chic" vehicle, it seems much like the Mazda RX-8 from the outside. If you look at the low roof line and wide stance quickly, you would think that it was nothing more than a high-priced two-seater roadster. Like the Mazda RX-8 GT, you'd be surprised to find that you can really seat four full-sized adults inside the Karma with room for their luggage.
This type of design isn't a mistake, either, it is very deliberate as Fisker has experience designing what some might consider Q-Ship cars. These are vehicles like the Mazda that seem to be one thing but are another. The Mazda, for example looks for all the world like a two-seat GT with quarter panels that begin at the B-pillars and stretch to the taillights. However, if you look closely at the B-pillar area you would notice a handle in the frame that, when you pull it out, reveals a door that swings out toward the trunk and which allows people easy access to the rear seats. It's true that the Karma comes with four doors, but if you catch a quick look at it, it seems more like a two-door, rather than a four.
The Karma features a low, wide stance. It rides on huge 22-inch alloy wheels and tires. It is about the same height as the Porsche 911 (or rather low) and has the same length as the Mercedes-Benz CLS. It is about as wide as a BMW 7 Series. Henrik Fisker is no stranger to designing luxury supercars - in the past he has been the designer behind the BMW Z8, and arguably some of the most beautiful cars on the road today, such as the Aston Martin DB9 as well as the V8 Vantage.