Henrik Fisker brings fuel efficiency to luxury market

Many in the automotive world view the term “performance hybrid” as an oxymoron. They claim a car can either be energy efficient or a sophisticated piece of movement engineering, but it can’t be both. That perspective is about to be set on its ear. While the first hybrids were indeed of meager output, carmakers are finding ways to use these fuel-saving drivetrains to generate hearty acceleration. Soon, a new crop of supercars from Porsche and Ferrari will employ hybrid drivetrains, resulting in net horsepower speculated to be in the neighborhood of 700 and 900, respectively. “Green” will no longer mean “boring” or “slow”—a reality we all should embrace.

At the forefront of this movement is Henrik Fisker. The 50-year old Danishborn executive chairman of Fisker Automotive has created an opulent extendedrange electric vehicle called the Karma. Its powertrain consists of a gas generator and a pair of electric motors driving the rear wheels. The Karma can run fully electric, putting out 402 horsepower, and can be plugged in to a charger, but if you run out of battery on the road, a gas generator will kick in.

Says Fisker of his Karma: “I thought that the time must be right for a beautiful, environmentally friendly car that people actually desired.” The Karma is a stunning design, though crafting gorgeous vehicles is nothing new for Fisker.

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Before starting his own company, Fisker was a designer at BMW and later Aston Martin. His work includes the breathtaking BMW Z8, Aston Martin DB9, and Aston Martin V8 Vantage. Certainly, the man knows his way around an automotive design studio, but the Karma is more than just a pretty face. It is substance, blended with style.

Fisker says the idea for a fuelefficient car of higher stature came to him while he was watching the Oscars. “A few years ago, Leonardo DiCaprio arrived in a Prius,” explains Henrik, “and it hit me: There is a market for those with means who want a guilt free and environmentally responsible driving experience.”

By “means,” Fisker is referring to a base MSRP of $102,000, which is certainly exclusive pricing. For those of lesser means, there is already another, more affordable car planned, the Atlantic.

The Karma and forthcoming Atlantic will be sold in existing dealerships of other brands throughout the country. “We know that our target demographic is a premium one,” says Fisker. “You are, in essence, buying a car from the dealership, not us. So we searched for the dealerships with the highest scores.” In the New England area, the selected representative is Kaplan Auto Group in Norwood.

Fisker Automotive has taken a different approach fromTesla, the all-electric carmaker headed by entrepreneur and PayPal-founder Elon Musk. Tesla has decided to open its own stores throughout the country, emulating the experience of an Apple store. Tesla even hired former Apple Store guru George Blankenship as itsVP of sales. This represents a significant hurdle for Tesla, as it takes a great deal of capital to build a dealer network, especially since many states have laws against manufacturer-owned dealers.

Fisker has had hurdles of its own.The company’s battery suppler,Waltham-based A123 Systems, filed for bankruptcy this month, selling its automotive assets to Johnson Controls, a company with experience in producing lithium-ion batteries. Fisker Automotive says it intends to use Johnson Controls as a supplier, and that the company’s batteries will “supplement our existing inventory, which is expected to cover our needs through at least the first quarter of 2013.”

For Henrik Fisker, the A123 bankruptcy is just a bump in the road. “Five to ten years out, I see extended range EV’s as 8 percent of the market. What a hybrid is will continue to evolve, to the point where the tech will be in every car on the market. At some point, you won’t even put the hybrid label on a car.The technology will just be standard.”

But for now, Fisker’s buyers are what you would call early adopters, those embracing a car company and a drivetrain in their infancy. These are the same forward-thinking buyers who purchased the first generation of iPhone (but richer).Those early adopters not only own a piece of history but also are driving their way to a more environmentally conscious future.