Last week, Fisker Automotive let go most of its employees, putting it on the brink of joining the ranks of Duesenberg, Cord, DeLorean and a thousand other auto makers that built gorgeous, innovative cars that failed.
Fisker’s troubles prove once again that automotive is a risky, incredibly expensive business and no amount of talent and experience can guarantee success. Just ask Mercedes-Benz, one of the world’s oldest and most successful auto makers. It recently threw in the towel on the Maybach ultra-luxury brand after selling about 3,000 cars in 10 years.
Or ask billionaire Warren Buffett. One of the most successful investors ever, the $230 million in funding he provided Chinese electric-vehicle maker BYD in 2009 now is considered a rare misstep.
WardsAuto recently had the Fisker Karma extended-range electric vehicle in for our 10 Best Interiors testing and I fell in love instantly. While much has been written about the car’s stunning exterior lines, I was even more smitten by the interior.
First off, the cabin features a totally bespoke design that can’t be found anywhere else. A unique interior aesthetic, with lines, shapes and components not based on a lower-priced high-volume platform usually costs several times the sticker of our $116,000 Karma EcoSport.
The passion for originality even carries over to the design of the human-machine interface, where futuristic touchscreen dials control climate and other functions. The shifter is an elegantly simple triangular array of four buttons for drive, neutral, reverse and park.
The huge space-robbing center console that runs from front to back and houses the car’s giant battery has been turned into a strong design feature. It provides a secure almost capsule-like environment for both driver and passengers.
The Fisker interior also features extensive use of sustainable materials that are consistent with its environmentally friendly design theme. Wood trim is sourced from reclaimed lumber, seating foam is soy-based and the carpet backing is created from recycled post-consumer materials.
Some WardsAuto judges complain the Karma’s turn-signal stalk and other switchgear come from the General Motors parts bin. They also whine that the HMI is difficult to understand and that there are numerous fit-and-finish issues. For instance, the passenger-side airbag door, invisible on most instrument panels, is a bit of an eyesore on the Karma.
To these criticisms I reply:
1. I can find Volkswagen parts on any Audi or Bentley and Toyota parts on every Lexus and so on.
2. Read the owner’s manual. That’s what it’s for.
3. To me, the sumptuous overall interior design drowns out any minor imperfections. My love is not blind; however it may be a little nearsighted.
The Fisker has many very real shortcomings. At 5,300 lbs. (2,400 kg), it is heavier than any car should be. A smaller, lighter battery pack could work wonders. The gasoline generator also is too noisy, and the navigation system seems to be a generation behind.
But I’ve tested thousands of cars in my years as an automotive journalist, and the Fisker Karma stands out despite its flaws. Fisker, the company, may go away, but the dazzling car it made never will be forgotten.