Fisker Karma

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Fisker Karma

Fisker Karma
Fisker Karma. Kristen Hall-Geisler


Fisker Automotive CEO Henrik Fisker is committed to green cars being cool cars. He brought his design chops from the likes of BMW and Aston Martin to start his own company and design the Karma, with its long wheelbase, wide stance, and low center of gravity -- all traditional sports car styling cues. Unlike any exotic car on the road today, the Karma has a plug-in hybrid powerplant, which uses a small, 2-liter gasoline engine combined with two electric motors. It's similar to the setup in the current Chevy Volt and the upcoming plug-in hybrid Prius, but this car was conceived and built independently of either of those mass-produced projects.

Years of practice in auto design plus the serendipity of encountering Quantum Technologies. That company had developed an extended-range electric car system for military use, but they wanted to put it into a car for civilians. Fisker, in the meantime, had the idea for a gorgeous and green sports car, but no powertrain. The two companies were such a good fit that they shook hands on the deal in September 2007 and were able to have a show car ready for the 2008 Detroit auto show four months later. It rolled out in the fall of 2011 as a 2012 model, with the first customers taking delivery just before the new year. Fisker plans to build about 15,000 a year when production is ramped up and the orders are pouring in.


  • Engine: 2-liter four-cylinder and 2 electric motors
  • Horsepower: 265 hp (engine) + 403 hp (motors)
  • Torque: 981 lb-ft
  • Top speed: 125 mph (limited)
  • 0-60 mph: 5.9 seconds
  • Price: $102,000
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Fisker Karma Powertrain

Fisker Karma Space Frame
Fisker Karma Space Frame. Fisker Automotive

Since Karma is a hybrid, albeit a very fast, very expensive one, with dual electric motors in the rear of the car. The lithium-ion battery runs along the center line of the chassis for weight balance, and there's a 2-liter Ecotec gasoline engine from GM under the hood. The two electric motors put out 150 kW each, for a total of 403 hp, while the fuel-injected, turbocharged, low-emissions engine up front has 265 of its own horsepower. The Fisker Karma can travel 50 miles on battery power alone, and 300 miles total using a combination of electric motors and combustion engine.

The Karma has two driving modes: "Stealth" and "Sport." In Stealth mode, the car uses only battery power to reach a top speed of 95 mph, and cover 0-60 mph in about 8 seconds. Sport mode adds the engine to the mix, for a top speed of 125 mph (sadly, it's electronically limited) and a 0-60 mph time of 5.9 seconds. Put that in your Prius and smoke it.

On an early Karma spec sheet, next to "Transmission," it says "Not Required." The rear wheels are powered directly by the electric motors mounted inside them. There is no connection between the gasoline engine and the wheels; it only recharges the battery, along with the regenerative braking system and solar panels on the roof. The limited-slip differential basically becomes a fixed-gear transmission for the massive torque generated by the motors -- nearly 1000 lb-ft, all of it available instantly, at 0 rpm. Seriously. This is a drag strip car if there ever was one -- as long as you've got an outlet handy to recharge for the next run.

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Fisker Karma Design

Fisker Karma Solar Roof
Fisker Karma Solar Roof. Kristen Hall-Geisler

Henrik Fisker was adamant that style not be sacrificed to environmental responsibility. Amazingly, the Karma concept car and the car that rolled out to dealerships in late 2011 look almost exactly the same, with few changes required for real-world engineering. The Karma's extruded-aluminum space frame had to be sturdy enough to support the tunnel of lithium-ion batteries that run down the center of the car, yet light enough to be a speedy, responsive sports car.

But Fisker pushed that concept further, incorporating the largest continuous formed glass solar panel roof currently being manufactured. It helps keep the batteries topped off while the car is running, but just as importantly, it looks like something out of Tron (new or old, pick your favorite). When the car is off, the driver has a couple of options: "Climate" will use the solar energy to keep the passenger compartment cool while it's parked; "Charging" will store as much of the solar energy as possible; and "Auto" will use the energy from the roof in whichever way the Karma sees fit.

The Karma can be covered in Diamond Dust paint, a water-based paint with recycled glass flake in it, as sparkly as it is green.

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Fisker Karma Interior

Fisker Karma Interior
Fisker Karma Interior. Fisker Automotive

Sustainability of course is part of the interior. All the wood trim, for example, is sourced from fallen trees, trees burned in forest fires, or trees brought up from lake bottoms across the U.S. They only use the good parts, obviously. Interior materials are made with post-industrial recycled content -- without seeming to be. While Fisker offers three levels of eco-friendly interiors, PETA members will want to order the top-of-the-line EcoChic option. It's animal-free, with bamboo-based fabric instead of leather, and fossilized leaves framed by EcoGlass. For those who want a low carbon footprint but still enjoy the smell of leather, Bridge of Weir Low-Carbon leather is available, too.

Sports car enthusiasts will want to know that the gauges are on three LCD screens in the dash: speedo, info, and power. The gauges are more subdued in Stealth mode and brighter in Sport mode, as they should be. The screen in the center console, where you control everything from temperature to tunes, is a huge 10-inch touch screen, the largest in a car to date.