Fisker Automotive's NASCAR fantasy failure
Green car builder Fisker Automotive became the latest DOE selected "winner" to show potential Solyndra fiscal mismanagement involving their Delaware factory to build a 99% Project Nina sedan. Some workers were laid off and they're renegotiating the loan agreement, since they're the recipient of a $529 million DOE loan guarantee, thanks to Obama crony capitalists. But what's up with the Karma, the car marketed toward the 1%, currently in production?
With the Daytona 500 - The Great American Race - taking place this month, it's fair to wonder, as Fisker's Karma lurches to market, where's the sales buzz if it's such an exceptional $103K sports sedan. Let's suppose Fisker was a rookie team getting ready to compete in a NASCAR Sprint Cup fantasy season, how would their promotional efforts be described? Summed up, it would be a series of Did Not Start (DNS), Qualify (DNQ) or Finish (DNF) and a back-of-the-pack finish. Here's some real world examples.
One DNF would be reflected by a Popular Mechanics web article that could be filed under Damned: Praise, faint. Their story suggested more affordable vehicles to match the driving performance and image of high-dollar cars. For example, consider Porsche's 2012 911S with a $97K retail price. PM editors suggested buying a 2011 Corvette at $49K for a car matching Porsche performance and cool.
Not surprisingly, the Fisker Karma was listed. Their less expensive vehicle suggestion was Chevy's Volt. Now with a Volt production call back due to battery safety issues, and sale numbers that suck, it doesn't seem like a flattering connection.
Karma suffered its own quality issues and issued a recall to fix coolant hose clamps, which could result in a battery thermal event if coolant leaked into the battery compartment. A small fix, yes, but an indication Finish automotive build quality isn't infallible.
A performance achievement that could be described as a back-of-the-pack finish, Fisker announced that a Karma traveled 51.6 miles in electric-only mode tested by TUV Germany's EPA equivalent. Sounds impressive until you sift through, as Al Gore would say, inconvenient test protocols. Testing is done on a chassis dynamometer and test parameters involved a 65-75F ambient temperature and a driving cycle that ultimately averages about 20 mph. Now how far would it go on a real road at 40 mph in 40 degree temperature? Since the Karma purports to be a high-performance sedan, what would happen to battery range if the driver just nailed the throttle from a standing start? Your mileage may vary would be an epic understatement.
Consider this marketing DNS. Sprint Cup teams have contractual appearance obligations, and Fisker missed a big one, the LA Auto Show this past November. Fisker is headquartered in Anaheim, California, so this would have been a hometown venue with a large audience of potential 1% customers. I walked the show and didn't see a Fisker display. Maybe there were no production vehicles available.
Consider the missed publicity potential. The show received extensive live local morning show coverage. Imagine the publicity if Ashton Kutcher drove up in a Karma with Kim Kardashian riding shot gun. Social media sites would have been maxed out twittering the details.
Further promotional upsides could have included been Al Gore ballooning his carbon footprint by flying into LA in his private jet, and then addressing 1% Hollywood types that the Karma should be the performance sedan parked in their drive next to their full-electric Nissan Leaf.
Inside at the show, designer and CEO Henrik Fisker could have discussed the ecological sustainability of the water-based exterior paint that uses recycled glass flake mixture which releases zero volatile organic compounds. Or that interior wood accents are sourced from sustainable reclaimed wood. It, however, would have been more impressive to display a Karma test mule with its bug splatter and stone chip patina, having covered 100K test miles or more demonstrating the car's durability.
Instead of a promotional DNQ, if Fisker wanted to establish Karma performance for real, I would be impressed to see a trio driven at 100 mph for 100,000 miles at a test track. This would duplicate Mercury's durability run at Daytona International Speedway, where five production 1964 Comets averaged 105mph for 100,000 miles. It took 26 days, and only one car dropped out. With its $529 million tax payer dollar credit line, doing a durability test would be chump change.
A Fisker Sprint Cup season is fantasy, but the $529 million loan guarantee is real money. What has the DOE gotten for its investment? Start with another potential non-performing loan that's bookended by the Karma's performance and brand promotion that has yet to be demonstrated against superb Mercedes-Benz, Porsche and Audi sedans. Whether or not the Karma can run with the competition is one question. But the more important one remains; why did the DOE give Fisker more than half a billion in loan guarantees, to build a six-figure car, that ultimately, to use racing jargon, maybe a mid-pack performer at best?