The article included this photo, which appears to show a black Karma never seen before. Did Wired Magazine inadvertently leak the 4th prototype? (This article mentioned that 4 Karma prototypes exist, although so far the public has only seen 2 Silver Wind cars and 1 Lagoon Blue concept)Wired said:Tucker, Cord, Delorean—the history of the auto industry is full of entrepreneurs who set out to rethink how cars are made. Most of them went bankrupt. Henrik Fisker is looking to buck that trend, challenging Tesla, Nissan, and GM with an ambitious entry into the amped-up field of electrified autos. After conjuring up such lust-worthy machines as the Aston Martin DB9 and the BMW Z8, the designer is now CEO of his own startup, Fisker Automotive. He aims to rock the market with a gorgeous $90,000 plug-in hybrid and a business model that’s more Silicon Valley than Motown. Wired talked to Fisker about how he plans to use a big idea, a tiny staff, and an open supply chain to blow the doors off Detroit.
Wired: GM went bankrupt; Chrysler is disintegrating. Is this really a good time to start a car company?
Henrik Fisker: It’s the perfect time. Especially for an environmentally minded automaker. Governments are handing out money—in April we got a $529 million loan from the US Department of Energy—and consumers are ready to change their lifestyles in the name of the environment.
Wired: No offense, but outside the auto industry, hardly anyone has even heard of your company. Where did you come from?
Photo: Joe Pugliese
Henrik Fisker says his company will sell more cars than Porsche by 2016.
Photo: Joe Pugliese
Fisker: I come from Denmark; Fisker Automotive comes from California. When we first showed the Karma in January 2008, we had barely started the company. In fact, we had just incorporated in August of the previous year.
Wired: You went from incorporation to unveiling a car at the Detroit Auto Show in only five months? That’s insane.
Fisker: Well, it was really just a shell; it didn’t even have a drivetrain.
Wired: OK, you had a shell in 2008—yet you promised delivery by 2010?
Fisker: You know what? Starting a car company is risky. We were brand-new, and we needed investment to develop our car. But we needed a car to attract those investors.
Wired: You got the funding—from Kleiner Perkins and now the DOE—and you’re already set to deliver your first vehicle. How did you do in three years what usually takes five?
Fisker: Most automakers develop multiple options for a single project. Then they present those options to a committee of executives who decide which one to go with. That takes a lot of time. I’m our head designer, and I’m also the chief executive; I choose a direction very early on, and we don’t look back. We don’t waste time doing 3-D models and design work for products that will never exist.
Wired: So being small can actually give you an advantage over the big guys?
Fisker: Absolutely. The industry hasn’t really changed since the last century. The big automakers are bogged down by excessive management and staff. They’re inefficient. We’re modern, fast, and light. Take the design process: At a typical car company, it lasts about 12 months. At Fisker it’s two. And we don’t feel the need to create every component in-house, either. We encourage suppliers to use our vehicles as a test bed for new ideas. Then we help them develop the technology and adapt it to our car.
Wired: Sounds like you’re outsourcing a lot. Doesn’t that make Fisker more of a design firm than a car company?
Fisker: No. A car has about 3,500 parts. Every time you move one of them 5 millimeters, several hundred others have to move as well. We have to integrate every component into a crash-worthy package that meets our performance expectations. That’s the hard part.
Wired: But it’s probably cheaper than developing all those parts in-house.
Fisker: Much cheaper. Say we wanted to design the stamping presses that make our fenders. We’d need 15 or 16 engineers just for that task. It would be hard to make money with 16 engineers working on every component. So we don’t. We have one. And we can turn a profit by selling as few as 15,000 vehicles.
Wired: Which is exactly how many Karmas you’re planning to build.
Fisker: Exactly, but that’s only the beginning. We just bought a factory in Delaware where we’ll produce our next car: a $40,000 model aimed at the mass market. We’ll be producing 100,000 a year by 2013. And we’ll have six models for sale by 2016.
Wired: You realize that will make you bigger than Porsche, right? In a fraction of the time that Porsche has existed.
Fisker: Yes, but that kind of growth isn’t unusual these days. Look at Google: They’ve been around for just over a decade, and they have a larger market cap than Coca-Cola. Look at Apple: They took 20 percent of the premium phone market in the US in six months. Now look at us: We created the premium green-auto market, and we’ve already got a waiting list 1,600 customers long.