Fisker Failing, Detroit Rising

Henry Ford didn’t revolutionize the automotive industry by launching one of the most expensive cars on the market. But in 1908, the technology was simple and the marketplace in its infancy. Nonetheless, the “car for the great multitude” was priced for success and more than 15,000,000 were sold.


Fisker faced a much different world when it unveiled the Karma in January of 2008. Its main competitor, Tesla, had launched an expensive ($109,000+) all-electric roadster that captured public attention and generated excitement, then strategically moved on to the more “affordable” all-electric Model S sedan, with total sales of 4,750 (as of April 1, 2013) along with proclamations of success and appropriate disclaimers.

To date, Fisker ($102,000 for a base model) has sold approximately 2,000 Karmas, and despite some $192 million in Government loans, is apparently headed for failure. Oh, and the Karma is actually a plug-in luxury hybrid with an all-electric range of 32 miles. Only Tesla delivers true, all-electric vehicles that break the 100 mile range.

The Karma is a beautiful car. So is the elegant Model S. But “affordable” is more in the pocketbook of the beholder, and most EV-wannabe mortals are looking at the Prius Plug-In (with an anemic all-electric “range” of 11 miles), a Nissan Leaf or Chevy Volt – the three top-selling “electric cars” according to Autodata.

Enter the all-electric SP:01, a Lotus Elise look-alike from startup manufacturer Detroit Electric. Sure, I want one. But it will probably be folks like George Clooney or Jay Leno who end up driving them, because an SP:01 is a sweet $135,000 hit to the household bottom line. However, Detroit promises other models “priced for everyday users” by 2014, and who knows whether its joint venture to produce EVs for the Chinese with automaker Geely will enhance its ability to deliver on an affordable EV – ideally, one that will make it from Philly to New York and back purely on electricity without coasting into the garage. Try that in an all-electric Ford Focus.

As members of Congress kick Fisker around for political reasons, maybe it’s time for the descendants of Henry Ford to step up to the challenge of producing long-range electric cars for today’s even greater multitude. Not Leaf-like impractical toys that won’t even make it from Portland, Oregon to Salem and back (94 miles) – but rather, cars like the Tesla that will go from Portland to Seattle (175 miles) and still leave you with a little juice to make it to dinner and return to your hotel.

Just make sure you remind the valet to plug it in.

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