The Orlando Sentinel recently published an article with some information that may be useful to prospective Fisker owners in Orlando:
Downtown Orlando will soon get a car dealership for a brand-new brand, but in a familiar location.
The Fields Group, which owns BMW dealerships in Winter Park, Orlando, Lakeland and Daytona Beach — as well as North Carolina, Canada and near Fields headquarters in Illinios — launched the Mini brand locally from a refurbished building on Orange Avenue in 2002.
But Mini outgrew the downtown space, so Fields bought the vacated Infiniti dealership just off Interstate 4 near Lee Road and renamed it Mini of Orlando. Which left the space downtown vacant. Fields was prepared to let it go, but the company's management thought: Hey, that would be a great place for Fisker.
Fisker Automotive is a new car company led by Henrik Fisker, 46, a Danish designer who spent much of his career at BMW before moving to Aston-Martin. After leaving Aston, Fisker teamed with Bernhard Koehler, a German businessman who also worked for BMW. Together, they formed Fisker Automotive. Earlier this year, they got a $528.7 million federal loan to help launch the company.
Their first product: the Fisker Karma, a sporty, powerful car that also happens to be a plug-in hybrid. The Karma is supposed to be able to travel up to 50 miles on battery power alone before a gasoline-powered engine kicks in. The Karma will be built by Valmet, a Finnish company that has built vehicles for multiple companies, including Saab and Porsche. (It builds the Porsche Boxster and Cayman.)
So why did the U.S. government fund a company that is building cars in Finland? Because Fisker is buying a closed-down General Motors plant in Delaware that last built Saturns, so it can build a smaller, less-expensive version of the Karma called the Nina. The Karma will sell for $87,900, the Nina for about $40,000. It will also be a plug-in hybrid.
It will likely be at least two years, perhaps three, before production starts in Delaware, but the Fisker Karma is supposed to go on sale by September 2010.
And that's what Fields is gearing up for. "With Mini, we have a good track record of launching a new car from the downtown Orlando location," said John Mantione, who oversees Fields' Orlando-area dealerships. "We're hoping lightning strikes twice."
Mantione said current plans call for the Fisker store to open this summer, but it obviously depends on when he'll get Fiskers to sell, or at least one to show potential customers.
Fisker debuted an operating version of the Karma at the Monterey Historic races in California last summer, where Bernhard Koehler drove it at speeds approaching 100 mph. The Karma has a pair of electric motors, totaling 403 horsepower, that are powered by a lithium-ion battery pack; when they run low, a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder gas engine helps out. It's the same principal used by the upcoming Chevrolet Volt, though the Karma will appeal to a different audience.
There are critics who say they will believe Fisker's success when they see it. After all, the history of one visionary successfully starting a car company is not promising, starting with Preston Tucker and his car in the late 1940s, then the Bricklin, the Delorean, and several other examples of cars and men who tried, and failed, to have an impact on the industry. Peter De Lorenzo, who operates a Detroit-based Web site called Autoextremist.com, has been one of Fisker's most vociferous critics: "There is nothing — not one single thing — about Fisker's business model that suggests to me anything but a slowly unfolding train wreck that will haunt the auto biz for months, if not years, to come," De Lorenzo wrote in early 2009.
Still, Fisker has impressed enough people to have assembled a strong, 45-dealer network in North America. Fields has signed up to carry the franchise not only in Orlando but in Chicago and British Columbia. Other dealers have Florida franchises in Tampa, Miami and Palm Beach.
This time next year, we'll know who was right.