Fisker Reveals Plans for Karma, Nina, and U.S. Production

Fisker Automotive is carefully positioning itself to be an automotive powerhouse in both the U.S. and Europe. While General Motors struggles to restore its reputation and Chrysler appears on the brink of disappearing altogether, Fisker is moving up to take its place among them.
photos from Fisker Automotive

by Aaron Turpen

Henrik Fisker, founder of Fisker Automotive, designed the Karma, a superluxe range-extended hybrid, and began to take the media by storm. The Finnish car designer, whose designs were for years some of the most memorable at General Motors, has been in the automotive business for most of his life.

Now, with his new manufacturing venture, Fisker is often misdiagnosed as competition for the Tesla Roadster. His four-door luxury sedan with its electric powertrain and small Chevrolet-built engine to extend its range, is very different from the Roadster it is so often compared to.

Headquartered in southern California, near Los Angeles, Fisker Automotive has been much quieter, more sedate, and less controversial than its northern neighbor, Tesla. For all that, the company has not been sitting on its heels.

The Karma officially goes into production next year and a newly-purchased plant in Delaware, amidst some controversy, will provide American production for the next model in Fisker's lineup.

The Karma

The Fisker Karma is a stylish, luxury sedan that seats five and has several unique features. It's price tag is nearly $88,000 and its competition is Audi, BMW, Lexus, and other luxury automakers.

Henrik Fisker announced at the recent LA Auto Show that production for the Karma will begin by May 2010. They will be built in Finland by partner Velmet Automotive. No total production numbers for 2010 were given, but Fisker currently has pre-orders for 1,500 cars and Henrik did say that if you order a Karma now, you will not likely see it until 2011. Deliveries on pre-orders will begin in mid-2010 in Europe and will be pending crash testing for the U.S., which begins as soon as the first vehicles leave the line.

The Fisker Sunset Convertible, a topless version of the Karma, is due to enter production in 2011 and, Fisker says, about a dozen people have pre-ordered that variation. There may be one more model of the Karma in the works as well, but Fisker has kept that card close to the vest.

It is not likely the Karma will be built in North America at all, though if sales are high enough, a future plant could be built. Fisker's next model, however, will be different.

The Delaware Plant

Fisker purchased this plant back in October, in a somewhat surprise move that caught some in the industry off-guard. It was known that Fisker was shopping around for an auto production plant in the U.S., but no one knew they would move so quickly.

Further controversy came when Vice President Joe Biden arrived in Delaware at the future Fisker plant to make the official announcement. Give his past ties with the company, Delaware being his home state, and his ties with General Motors (who owned the plant), however, it was not really as controversial as some tried to make it.

The controversy was mostly unwarranted, as there are many good reasons for Fisker to have picked the Wilmington plant. The facility was only recently shut down at the end of the 2005 production year, where it produced the Pontiac Solstice. Since the plant produced cars, it is well-outfitted for Fisker's needs.

The Wilmington plant also has good access to the Port of Wilmington and Fisker plans to export nearly half of the cars made there. The plant is also a good size, currently tooled to produce 20,000 vehicles per year after being ramped down from 300,000. This can be reversed, giving Fisker the opportunity to start small and build up in the plant.

Finally, General Motors, happy to unload the plant without the hassles, has left all of the tooling and machinery in the plant as part of the deal, saving them from having to auction it and Fisker from having to find replacements.

Lastly, the city of Wilmington has many qualified autoworkers to populate the plant once it enters production, which will likely be sometime next year. At least for prototype models. Much of the financing for this plant's purchase, re-tooling, and beginning production will come from the recently-approved Department of Energy loans Fisker received.

The first prototype will likely be what's currently being called Project Nina. It was first mentioned when the Vice President did what he's known for--committed a verbal faux pas. This time it was at the announcement of the Delaware plant purchase: he mentioned Project Nina.

Project Nina

Little is known about this vehicle, which is currently only in the design phase. This car will be a smaller, lower-cost, and more mainstream plug-in hybrid electric. It will likely use much of the same powertrain platform that the Karma does. Fisker has tentatively set its price tag in the $40,000 range.

It's likely that the Nina will be a somewhat smaller sedan than the Karma, but with less traditional styling. It will be an affordable family car with the higher-end options expected in cars of this price tag.

Fisker has said the car will enter production sometime in 2012, but prototypes should be seen next year. Henrik says it will be 'radical' in style.

The Future

Fisker Automotive is carefully positioning itself to be an automotive powerhouse in both the U.S. and Europe. While General Motors struggles to restore its reputation and Chrysler appears on the brink of disappearing altogether, Fisker is moving up to take its place among them.

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