Fisker Automotive was supposed to redefine the luxury automotive industry. Its Karma plug-in hybrid sedan — hailed and still revered as a design icon — promised to lead the industry toward an electrified future.
But things don't always go as planned.
The Karma suffered from scathing reviews and recalls, and after roughly six years of financial turmoil and litigation, the company went bankrupt. Its founder, renowned designer Henrik Fisker, was left to watch as others took control of the electrified vehicle market, his car and his company.
Now, 10 years after launching that venture, the 53-year-old Fisker is back, and doubling down with a new car company called Fisker Inc.
"Having done this before, I'm in a unique position to kind of almost take lessons learned, which is very rare especially in the car industry," he told Automotive News.
This time, the launch vehicle is an equally distinctive all-electric sedan called the EMotion that Fisker promises will rival the Tesla Model S. Fisker released exterior photos this year, showcasing its upward-opening doors, and plans a debut in late September.
The $129,000 sedan — expected to start production and deliveries in late 2019 — is touted as having a top speed of 161 mph, a 400-mile-plus electric range and rapid-charging capabilities of 125 miles in 9 minutes.
After the EMotion, Fisker's plans include entering the mass market with an "affordable electric vehicle" that will cost less than competitors and have a longer range.
The company, he said, is seeking a manufacturing partner to produce that vehicle and should finalize an assembly plant by year end to build the EMotion in house.
If that formula sounds familiar, it should. The high-end car, followed by an "affordable" mass-market vehicle, is straight out of Fisker's plans for his original company, whose assets were acquired in a 2014 bankruptcy auction by Chinese auto parts supplier Wanxiang Group. It is now known as Karma Automotive.
The plans also mirror those of Tesla, which has begun producing its mass-market Model 3. And Lucid Motors. And Faraday Future.
But Fisker believes his company can set itself apart through design and technology.
"What I did with the Fisker EMotion was to really start with what we wanted in terms of range and charging time, and then say: How do we design the vehicles around that?" he said.
The company, he said, is internally developing "game-changing battery technology" and has a battle-tested battery supplier in LG Chem for the launch of the EMotion.
Fisker blames the downfall of Fisker Automotive partially on A123 Systems Inc., which supplied batteries for the Karma before filing for bankruptcy in 2012 — leaving him without a supplier.
"That was obviously detrimental for Fisker at that time," he said. "My lesson learned there is that we need to make 100 percent sure of the battery technology that we launch with, which is why we chose LG Chem."
Representatives for LG Chem, through a spokesman, declined to comment.
The LG Chem partnership represents a change in plans from Fisker's initial announcement in October. Back then, he said, the EMotion would feature new battery technology that uses graphene from Fisker Nanotech, a joint venture with Nanotech Energy Inc.
That partnership has since been dissolved, as Nanotech didn't want to develop the battery technology exclusively for automotive applications.
Fisker believes the company may no longer need to use graphene-based technology in future vehicles. He said Fisker is now concentrating on emerging battery technology known as flexible solid state.
The EMotion, according to Fisker, will be powered by cylindrical lithium ion NCM chemistry cells from LG Chem for a pack designed by Fisker Inc.
Karl Brauer, executive publisher for Kelley Blue Book and Autotrader, said a change in the battery shouldn't be a cause for concern. He argued that having an established battery company supply the cells for a new vehicle is likely better than doing it in-house, especially for a niche vehicle.
Fisker is taking refundable $2,000 deposits for the EMotion, which promises "full autonomy" from a supplier that Fisker wouldn't identify. He declined to say how many reservations have been received.
As for the mass-market vehicle, Fisker wants to partner with an established automaker. The designer credited with creating the BMW Z8 and Aston Martin DB9 said until automakers begin to make money from EVs, it makes more sense to form production partnerships.
"It's very difficult for an automotive startup to scale up to mass production like the really big players that have done it for years," he said. "Automakers, we tend to forget, they are well-oiled machines."