A few months ago, we looked at the Fisker Karma, an innovative plug-in hybrid electric vehicle (PHEV) that mixes the efficiency and eco-friendliness of a hybrid with the jaw dropping beauty of an elegant European sports sedan. Fans of the Karma are eagerly awaiting its late 2009 – early 2010 release, and to tide them over, here’s a look at the Fisker Karma Sunset, a drop top version of the car that just won the prestigious 2009 Production Preview Vehicle of the Year award from the North American Concept Vehicle of the Year Awards.
The drivetrain of the Karma Sunset, sometimes called the Karma S, is the same as its sedan sister. There is a 2.0-liter GM-sourced EcoTec four-cylinder engine that produces 260 horsepower. That power, however, doesn’t go to the wheels. Instead, it acts as an onboard electrical generator, feeding power to a lithium ion battery pack. The actual motive power comes from a pair of electric motors that generate 403 horsepower and are capable of a mind-bending 959 lb-ft of torque. For the sake of keeping the chassis and frame in working order, one expects that the torque will be limited, but there will still be plenty of power on tap. And, due to the unique power characteristics of electric motors, all of that torque is available at any time, whether the motors are turning at 1 RPM or 10,000 RPM.
The lithium ion battery pack can be plugged into your wall socket to provide an all-electric drive range of 50 miles at a full charge. Once the charge is done, the internal combustion engine kicks on and starts providing electricity. Since most people don’t really drive more than 50 miles per day, and if they do, not much farther, the Karma will be a real gas sipper. That means that by charging the Karma overnight for your commute the next morning, you’ll only be spending pennies a day to get to and from work.
The style, as you can see, is incredible, and with good cause. Henrik Fisker, the co-founder of Fisker Automotive, has been designing great-looking cars for years. His name first came to public attention in the late 1990s when he designed the exterior of the Z07 concept car for BMW. This car was later put into production as the Z8 with very few changes. In 2001, Fisker was hired by Ford. At the time, Ford owned Aston Martin, and Fisker was made the Design Director for the brand, contributing to the V8 Vantage and the DB9.
So, you have a beautiful, eco-friendly car, but how much will it cost? Well, that’s another area where Fisker has excelled. The overall design for the Karma and the Karma sunset was done by the 100 or so employees of the company. Through outsourcing, like the abovementioned engine from GM, the development cycle for the Karma only took about two and a half years, as opposed to the five normally required for the launch of a new model. That time saved, and the money saved by outsourcing some other parts (GM also supplies door latch mechanisms and a few other innocuous parts), the overall cost of the design dropped from the $1 billion it would have taken to design the Karma conventionally, down to $335 million.
The Fisker Karma and Karma Sunset are representative of a new generation of automotive development. The cars are eco-friendly, without sacrificing style and power. Different design components come from different areas of the world (there’s a design facility in Southern California, the lithium ion batteries come from a company in Inidana, the engine is from GM, the frame is from Norway, etc.). By not centralizing their production, like many current car companies, Fisker benefits not only from the innovations of their 100 employees, but also from the other 600-700 who are part of the supplying and subcontracting companies. The Karma sedan will cost about $90,000 when it hits the streets, with the Karma Sunset likely costing a bit more. As production scales up however, prices will go down, and, generous tax incentives will further defray the cost. Even though, can you really put a price on such a beautiful machine? One look at it and you’ll be opening up your checkbook.