Wired Magazine via Fisker Automotive said:Henrik Fisker’s ‘Timeless’ Automotive Designs
Henrik Fisker uses a single word to describe his design aesthetic: timeless.
Fisker is the founder and CEO of Fisker Automotive, a company hoping to shake up the auto industry and prove eco-friendly cars can be as lustworthy as the finest luxury sedans. But Fisker is, first and foremost, a car nut, one whose highest ambition is to design cars that will be as beautiful 50 years from now as they are today.
“The thing I really believe in is, in a word, timelessness,” Fisker says. “That’s something you have to put into car design.”
His designs draw as much inspiration from the human body as they do the classic cars of the past. They are long and muscular, like an athlete, and he has called them a “human-like form of sculpture.” Proportion is paramount. He believes cars look best with flowing lines, short overhangs and an assertive stance, which explains the look of his Karma plug-in hybrid (shown above).
“The Karma shows the perfect proportions of an automobile,” he says. “It’s long and low with short overhangs, large wheels and sweeping line. We wanted to design a car we knew no other automaker would do.”
Planned production TBA
The Karma isn’t slated to roll into driveways until sometime next year, but Fisker already has his second model in the works — the Sunset, a convertible based on the Karma. From the start, Fisker had only one goal: Create the ultimate open-top luxury car.
“There was no compromise made on that,” he says. “Its all about beauty and the open road.”
The open road is where Fisker, who was born in Denmark, fell in love with cars. He was a boy riding in his father’s Saab 96 when a Maserati Bora passed by. Fisker found it utterly gorgeous. The die was cast, a design aficionado born.
“I realized I love the way cars look,” he says. “I wanted to be a part of it. Like most little boys, I was drawing cars. Sooner or later they grow out of it, but I never did.”
The BMW 507 was the inspiration for the Z8.
Fisker graduated from the Art Center College of Design in Switzerland in 1989 and went to work at BMW Technik, the automaker’s advanced-design center. It’s where BMW develops some of its most innovative ideas.
Fisker spent 12 years at BMW and made his name with the Z07 concept car, which became the Z8 roadster in 1999. It resembled nothing BMW was making at the time, and it looked back at the company’s heritage even as it looked to the future.
“My inspiration was the BMW 507,” Fisker says. “The task was how would that car have looked if it evolved like the Porsche 911 evolved. That’s why it has that slightly retro look. But the thing I really like about it is — even if at first glance it has a retro look — it is very, very modern.”
Aston Martin DB9
Fisker left BMW for Ford in 2001 and became design director at Aston Martin, which Ford owned at the time. His first job was wrapping up the DB9, a design started by his predecessor, Ian Callum. (Callum, in an interview with Car & Driver, says “pretty much 100 percent” of the design is his, a point Fisker vigorously denies.)
“My time at Aston Martin was very interesting because I came from BMW, which had this huge design-and-engineering department,” Fisker says. Aston Martin, on the other hand, was a far-smaller operation that allowed him greater say in the car’s design and development.
In working on the DB9, as he did with the Z8, Fisker drew from his employer’s storied heritage and most-beautiful cars. He was particularly inspired by the DB4 GT Zagato.
“I brought back the strongest elements from the best of Aston Martin’s history,” he says.
Aston Martin V8 Vantage
Jaguar XK-E, one of Fisker's favorite designs.
Fisker draws tremendous inspiration from the past, because it speaks to his “timeless” aesthetic. He counts the sensual Jaguar XK-E and the angular Maserati Boomerang concept as two of his favorites. And he’s especially partial to Giorgetto Giugiaro, whose work ranges from the Ferrari 250 GT to the Volkswagen Rabbit to several Nikon cameras.
Of course Fisker admires the work of the big Italian design houses like Carrozzeria Bertone, but he also is influenced by American designers, particularly those who shaped the luxury and muscle cars of the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s.
“Growing up in Denmark, they were dream cars for me. Cars like the early Pontiac Firebirds,” he says. “People might laugh now, but at the time they were very cool. I draw influence from American car design. In the 1950s and 1960s, American cars were extravagant. They were generous with form. They were affordable cars that were very dramatic.”
After completing the DB9, Fisker turned his attention to the V8 Vantage. (Again, Callum says he was largely responsible for the design, telling Car & Driver “a good 80 percent” of it is his. Fisker vigorously denies this claim.) Here, as always, Fisker focused heavily on giving the car the “right proportions” — a long hood, short overhangs and an aggressive stance.
Ford Shelby GR-1
Concept and show cars are where designers really get to stretch their wings, and the Shelby GR-1 radically reimagines the Shelby Daytona Coupe race car of the 1960s. Fisker didn’t design it — that was done by George Saridakis, for a project conceived by J. Mays, Ford’s global VP of design. But he led the Global Advanced Design Studio where the car took shape.
Although Fisker cites many high-dollar sports and luxury cars as his favorite designs, he finds inspiration everywhere. Even a Hyundai might spark an idea and get him sketching.
“It might make me think, ‘Hey, they tried something different’ and it will make me think of something,” he says. “I think about car design every day as I go back and forth to work, looking at cars.”
Fisker left Ford in 2005 to launch Fisker Coachbuild with Bernhard Koehler, with whom he worked at BMW and Aston Martin. The company was an anachronism, a return to the days when specialized design houses made bodies for cars built by others. Coach building was common before World War II and led to some of the most beautiful cars ever made.
Fisker Coachbuild’s first car was the Tramonto, a roadster based on the Mercedes-Benz SL. Fisker gave the car a longer hood line and a slimmer rear with no visible bumpers. Fisker spends a lot of time designing the back end of his cars, an area he says is too often overlooked.
“Too often you walk around a car you’ll find beautiful and you’re disappointed when you get to the back,” he said. “They’ll have square taillights or an unsightly bumper or they just aren’t very distinctive. The back of a car is a place where I think you can create a strong, beautiful design.”
And not just because it’s the only thing people will see if you’ve got a particularly fast car like a Tramonto. When fitted with carbon bodywork and a supercharged V-8 from the Mercedes-Benz SL55 AMG, it’ll do zero to 60 in (a claimed) 3.6 seconds.
Fisker’s second coach-built car was the Latigo CS, based on the BMW 6-Series coupes. Again, he gave the car a sleeker front and a tidier rear. Although you can see the Bimmer’s DNA, the Latigo doesn’t look quite like anything else, which is the point.
“We wanted people to wonder, ‘What is that?’” Fisker says.
Fisker Coachbuild uses exotic materials like magnesium, and forms the body in aluminum, steel and carbon fiber. It also customizes the drivetrain and interior to each customer’s taste. That makes the vehicles frightfully expensive — Fisker says they cost $300,000 and up — but ensures a high level of exclusivity. Although each car was slated for a production run of 150 vehicles, no more than a handful were built.
“We wanted customers to be able to personalize the vehicles,” Fisker says. “No two of them are the same. But we knew that was not a long-term business model.”
And so Fisker Coachbuild and Quantum Technologies launched Fisker Automotive in 2007 to develop the Karma plug-in hybrid.
Fisker can design mid-engine cars, too. The Artega GT is a super-exclusive two-seater built by German boutique builder Artega Motors. Fisker drew influence for the design from cars like the “Ferrari” Dino 246, one of the most beautiful sports cars ever.
Fisker has big plans for his eponymous company. He says he’ll deliver the first Karma sedans to customers next year and begin producing the Sunset convertible in 2011.
Beyond that, though, he’s looking ahead to an “affordable” mid-sized plug-in hybrid sedan codenamed Project Nina. The Department of Energy was impressed enough to lend Fisker Automotive $528 million to help get Nina rolling. He’s already lined up a factory in Delaware to build the car, which he says will be here in mid-2012.
And what will it look like?
“You can expect that it will be the most beautiful car in its class,” he says, promising a car about the size of a BMW 3-Series. “It will set new standards. And that’s all I’ll say.”