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Read the article for the Tesla and Fisker commentary:

http://www.latimes.com/business/la-fi-neil18-2009dec18,0,2974405,full.column

His video review:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0-SXV-eGEdg

Dan Neil said:
Judging by a spectacularly cool and powerful prototype, today's gallant pioneers of the electric sports car will be left in the dust
By Dan Neil

December 18, 2009

Picture this: Elon Musk and Henrik Fisker -- impresarios of the electric Tesla Roadster and the soon-to-be, sort-of-electric Fisker Karma, respectively -- are running for their lives through a cave. Rolling behind them, gathering momentum, thundering ever closer, is an enormous boulder.

"Look out, Henrik!" "Save yourself, Elon!" Cue the John Williams soundtrack.

Can Elon get out of the cave in time? Will Henrik manage . . . Splat! Oh no! Look at the blood! There's rich guy everywhere!

I just spent a few minutes driving the boulder.

The Audi e-tron -- a spectacularly cool and highly evolved prototype of an electric sports car due from the German giant at the end of 2011 -- may not be the car that crushes California's bold pioneers of electric mobility.

But what it represents could.

In the next couple of years, globe-striding automakers such as Nissan-Renault, Mercedes-Benz, VW Group, GM and Ford will begin cranking out tens of thousands of electric cars. Not just small electric city cars and mid-size family sedans (like GM's Volt and Nissan's Leaf) but powerful, dead-sexy sports cars.

The Audi e-tron, whose only shared component with the look-alike Audi R8 are the halfshafts, will at some point have company in the luxury electric sports car segment in the form of Mercedes' electric-version SLS gullwing (and no, I never thought I'd be writing those words).

This armada of electron-burners will not be diffident, underbaked beta-testers. No asterisks they. These will be -- they have to be -- fully fledged Nissans, Mercedes and VWs, built to these companies' exacting standards and sold at a price that economizes their global scale.

"Do you hear something, Elon?"

"Don't be silly, Henrik. It's just the wind."

Let's stipulate that Tesla and Fisker are fine companies with great people and ideas, and a not-inconsiderable $1 billion in public money between them. Both companies' business plans call for using the glamour of a sporty halo car (the Tesla Roadster and Fisker Karma) to build brand cachet and help fund development of more attainable, real-world cars: Tesla's Model S and Fisker's Nina.

While the majors were sitting on the sidelines, these electric car wildcatters could reasonably expect success.

But now the majors are coming fast. And the Audi e-tron, which took Ingolstadt all of nine months to build, insists that we reconsider the viability of these low-volume upstarts in light of their highly resourced imperial competitors.

The burn-in-hell red e-tron that Audi made available for test drives near Point Mugu last week was last seen in September on the turnstile at the Frankfurt Auto Show. Typically, show cars are pretty hollow on the inside. Not this time.

The e-tron's alloy space-frame is production-ready; the adaptive climate- and visibility-sensing LED headlamps and taillamps work; the electric door closures and windows work; the motion-sensing door handles operate; the instrument console is already near production; the unique heat-pump system (to provide cabin warmth) is installed. The car's MMI (Man-Machine Interface) is already roughed in, with the liquid crystal display levitating out of the instrument console when the car is started.

The last Audi that was this cool was upstaging Will Smith in the movie "I, Robot."

Among its many party tricks, the e-tron has a kind of morphable exterior skin that changes shape to optimize aerodynamics and battery cooling as needed. When the batteries need a breeze, the clear acrylic panel over the front grille recedes into the grille opening, allowing fresh air in. Likewise, the flexible aluminum comb over the rear deck rises up to form a ram-air intake duct. That is just wicked, man.

The gristly guts of the e-tron comprise four inboard-mounted electric motors, one for each wheel, allowing the car to have Audi's signature Quattro all-wheel-drive. Seventy percent of the total power is channeled through the rear wheels, and 30% through the front, though with four electric motors the distribution of torque can be effortlessly sluiced around to maximize grip far faster and more easily than with even the best mechanical AWD system.

The e-tron has no transmission, only two reduction gears (1:6 ratio in front and 1:7 ratio in rear, owing to the larger wheels on the rear). The gearing is why the car has a nominal horsepower of 313 hp but on-paper torque of 3,319 pound-feet. Obviously, you can't unleash that kind of twist all at once or the car would rip its own axles apart. With about 550 pound-feet of torque doled out by the computers, the car's 0-62 mph pace is 4.8 seconds. Top speed is e-limited to 155 mph.

The carbon-bodied e-tron prototype weighs 3,527 pounds but, according to chief engineer Thomas Krauter, the target weight for production car will be a very skinny 3,200 pounds.

First-year production of the 2012 model year e-tron (perhaps called R8e?) will be limited to a mere 100 cars; as for out-the-door sticker, nobody really knows. A good guess is between $160,000 and $200,000.

"Do you think the natives are friendly, Elon?"

"Absolutely, Henrik. They invited us for dinner."

Like all electric cars, the batteries are the biggest concern. The e-tron uses a lithium-ion pack sourced from Sanyo with a total capacity of 53 kWh, but only about 43 kWh is usable storage. Max discharge is a healthy 230 amps. According to Krauter, the car will have two settings for regenerative braking, one normal and one sporty -- which is to say, you lift off the gas and the aggressive regen will instantly slow the car down as if it had piled into a load of sand. No coasting.

For enthusiast drivers, all this is catnip. Torque-vectoring all-wheel drive with big regenerative braking going into corners? That means less weight transfer, better overall balance, less brake wear, quicker time back to the throttle. The production version of this car is going to be stupid fast. I predict we are looking at the future production-car record holder at the Nurburgring.

Nine months? If I were in the electric sports car business, the e-tron would make me drop a toaster into my bathwater. While it's often said the big organizations are slow and unresponsive, it's also true that big organizations can achieve amazing things by dint of board management fiat.

Predicting their demise is not the same as wishing for it, and I do hope that Fisker and Tesla survive and thrive. I just don't see how. Ironically, the explosive growth in the e-car market might be the very thing that does them in.

As they say, the pioneers get the arrows.
I think his points are valid about the ever-increasing threat the mainstream manufacturers pose to Tesla and Fisker, yet I also feel that both companies are fielding impressive cars that will more than hold their own in their respective market segments while Fisker and Tesla continue to grow.

What are your thoughts?
 

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A followup on Dan...

Dan Neil - What I Got Wrong (and Right) in 2012

On Fisker

First and worst: I was too easy on the Fisker Karma, a range-extended plug-in electric luxury sedan built in Finland and imported by the Orange County, Calif.-based company. I really wanted this car to be great, and I have great respect for Henrik Fisker, whose company, having received a highly vetted Department of Energy loan, got smeared during the presidential campaign, a la Solyndra. As unfair as these attacks were, they should have been inadmissible evidence in my judgment of Karma; instead, I found myself rooting for Fisker as an underdog.

In the review, published in February, I tied myself in knots trying to praise the Karma, even resorting to the "world's most interesting car" banality. But in the end, I see in hindsight, the car is too heavy, too overpromised in terms of performance and efficiency, and it is just too durably weird-looking to love. Put a jar in your Fisker Karma, and put a dollar in the jar every time somebody asks you, "What the **** are you driving, mister?" You could put a kid through college that way.

Also, in the article on the Karma, I fumbled this joke: "At 5,300 pounds, the Karma is the heaviest four-seater this side of a Cessna." Flying enthusiasts wrote in to say that I was wildly off the mark. A Cessna 175 weighs about 1,400 pounds. Holy cow, how did I get that so wrong? It's like being asked the weight of a skyscraper and guessing three hens.

In any event, in the second edition, the joke will run thus: "…the heaviest four-seater this side of 3.78 Cessnas." See? Better.

Before leaving the Karma: It will likely surprise the Fisker people to learn I let them off the hook. "The whole thing is pretty overdrawn, for my tastes," I wrote. "The diamond motif is painful. The intersection of the curving shoulder line and the rising front fender line creates a visual slackness at the base of the windshield, making the car look like it's sagging a bit."

It is not uncommon for me to write what I consider to be a fairly positive review, only to have the manufacturer, or some batty enthusiast, accuse me of malice. It all depends on whose investment fund is being gored.
On Tesla

A Few Good Calls:

....

The world's first fully legitimate electric sedan cleaned up on Car of the Year awards. Built in Silicon Valley, this is certainly one the most important cars in history and a triumph of American ingenuity we can all be proud of.
 

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Key issue for company's survival is are there enough customers to buy existing cars? It seems that Karma occupies the slot of "entertainment toy for rich guys with eco-conscience" and so far has not made inroads in the crowd that buys year after year Mercedes, Audi or BMW cars. Also, conditions for new car sales are at the moment the worst in 10 years. Aston Martin is clearly struggling with their lineup, as well as Maserati or Bentley. Just released figures show that in Belgium new car registrations for December dropped by 54 percent year-on-year. In France yearly drop is about 15 percent, Spain 13 percent, in Italy 20 percent. In this environment all auto manufacturers are struggling, however only Germans have money in the bank. Fisker's survival is tied to their cash flow and I would venture to say that also due to problems with A123 and Sandy's damage it is only matter of few weeks when money runs out...
 

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Is he serious?

"....and it is just too durably weird-looking to love. Put a jar in your Fisker Karma, and put a dollar in the jar every time somebody asks you, "What the **** are you driving, mister?" You could put a kid through college that way."

He's right about filling up that jar, but dead wrong on the question. My experience has been a lot of questions and pictures, but none of them "what the **** are you driving.." His test drive must not have been long enough! Those questions and groups of people photographing the car when you leave it parked in a public garage are admirers.
 

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Ya I think he's completely wrong on the looks too. Many supercars are weird looking to me but the Karma is perfectly elegant even more so than Aston Martins. His weight criticism is the only one I agree with but Karma is Fisker's first car. I doubt the major automakers will deliver as quickly on things like the e-tron as they claim just like Tesla and Fisker took longer than originally stated.
 

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I think the weight thing can be overcome with a powertrain overhaul. It would probably take more cash than fisker has on-hand to do it in-house -- but I think the gains would be worth it.
 

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I think the weight thing can be overcome with a powertrain overhaul. It would probably take more cash than fisker has on-hand to do it in-house -- but I think the gains would be worth it.
It makes economic sense for Fisker to develop the 2nd generation powertrain for the Atlantic and then use it for a refresh of the Karma in 2015/16. Fisker never intended to be profitable only selling Karmas, just as Tesla didn't intend to reach profitability with the Roadster.
 

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Understandable, but the discussion above was about the weight of the Karma. I simply stated my opinion as to how that could be overcome, not about what they should be doing now or what Tesla did.
 

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Understandable, but the discussion above was about the weight of the Karma. I simply stated my opinion as to how that could be overcome, not about what they should be doing now or what Tesla did.
And I was responding to your comment that it would probably take more cash than Fisker has on hand but would be worth it.
 

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From Dan Neil's original article that started this thread:

I just spent a few minutes driving the boulder. The Audi e-tron -- a spectacularly cool and highly evolved prototype of an electric sports car due from the German giant at the end of 2011

So here is the latest on that one:

Now comes word from Audi website Fourtitude, via Green Car Reports, that the Audi R8 e-tron has resumed development and testing, though that's not to say it will ever see production. If it does, price will certainly be an issue, especially in light of the car’s relatively modest range (estimated to be 133 miles on the combined Euro cycle, but probably closer to 100 miles in the real world).

Hardly the boulder to crush Fisker and Tesla.
 
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