CEO, Fisker Automotive
The chief executive of Fisker Automotive believes in true love—that is, the love of a car owner for a gorgeous vehicle. And Henrik Fisker wants the stodgy automobile industry to take notice of this romance between car owner and car and eat its heart out in envy. Other auto manufacturers should envy Fisker’s design audacity, his proprietary plug-in hybrid technology and his speed to market—a mere 19 months from initial concept to completed design. “This is the first time in 40 years that a car designer is running a car company,” says Fisker, who established himself as a leading designer at BMW and Aston Martin before adding “carmaker” to his list of credentials.
“Hopefully,” he adds, Fisker Automotive and its stunning brainchild, the Karma, will have a “strong impact on the automobile industry” by shaking up the luxury-class car market with some fresh ideas. One way he’ll do it? Karma is touted as the first premium plug-in electric; the car switches between a powerful battery and a generator driven by a four-cylinder gas engine.
Design, not technology, tends to clinch sales in the high-end sports car market, however, and Fisker says reactions to the Karma range from interested to seriously smitten. “I think it’s vital that the consumer fall in love with the car,” he says.
He chides consumaers who “settle” for decent-looking cars, rather than buy the wheels they really want. In Fisker’s Epicurean universe, life is too short to be stuck for ninety minutes in rush-hour traffic in a car you hate. “The reality is that we spend so much time in a car,” he says. “Why not have that beautiful car?” He makes the proposition sound as rational as Isaac Newton.
Fisker scoffs at the classic dichotomy of keeping a sports car for the open road and dull-and-dutiful four-door sedan for daily commuting. “We’ve created a new segment that was neither coupe nor sedan, but having the look and sensuality of extreme engine sports car with the interior space of a four-door, mid-size sedan,” says the designer-turned-carmaker.
In its design, the Karma is both refined and provocative; the curvaceous car brings to mind the old truism about European cars resembling women’s bodies. One admirer is Dan Neil, columnist for the Los Angeles Times. “You can’t argue with the overall shape of the car,” Neil says. Karma, he adds, has “a very beautiful form, very sinuous, with a lovely, rising amplitude.” His sole objection is the design of the grill, which reminds some people of the grin without the cat.
Karma is merely the latest in a distinguished series of hot, luxury-class cars designed by Fisker. At BMW, he won praise for the Z8, which a writer for pistonheads.com, a British online automotive journal, described as “arguably the best looking BMW of all time.” Later on, at Aston Martin, he created the AMV8 Vantage concept car that the same publication described as “flawless from every angle.”
Fisker founded the company in 2007, which is technically a joint venture of Fisker Coachbuilder and Quantum Technologies with major backing from Kleiner Perkins Caulfield & Byers, Palo Alto Investors and Qatar Holdings. Fisker’s assignment is to bring design, engineering and marketing together in a single product that sings. With a price starting at $87,400, the typical buyers are “trading up from Mercedes, Lexus, Jaguar and BMW,” says Fisker, adding, “It is clear that there is a category of people who truly are excited about design.”
Even with his own car company, Fisker still perceives new worlds to conquer: He wants to design the ultimate consumer-pleasing, sustainable, and tastefully eroticized car. “We still have a long way to go to discover the kind of design that brings out the desire in us,” he says.
Maybe so. For the time being, at least, Fisker definitely has our attention.