Saving The Polar Bears

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Alright everyone, it’s time to break out your green markers, buy some poster board and don your eco-friendly, fair trade hats and recycled jeans. It is no accident that there’s a climate change march going on in the background of this leading picture. This is a 2012 Fisker Karma ES, and it’s a healthy serving of environmental responsibility, drizzled in a bankruptcy-infused glaze and served with a side of potential spontaneous combustion.

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Before we dive into all that though, let’s just take a minute to look at this thing, because my God this car’s pretty. The profile that looks as its been draped over the car like a dress, the pronounced haunches, the subtle bulge in the hood: it’s knees-weakening stuff, really. Plus there’s really cool details as well, like the intricate little designs in the headlights and the polished metal diamond-shaped inserts where the exhausts would’ve gone. Design-wise, it really is the late-70s Farah Fawcett of cars. But perhaps that’s not surprising, because the founder of the company, Henrik Fisker, also designed some other Charlie’s Angels during his career.

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Fisker was the main artist behind the BMW Z8, Aston Martin V8 Vantage and a selection of very nicely rebodied Mercedes SLs. The Karma, however, is unique in that it is the first car that is, well and truly, his own creation from the ground up. And don’t go thinking it’s all just a pretty face, because underneath that stunning exterior beats the heart of a respectable performance car. The Karma is powered by two 201 horsepower electric motors which run the length of the interior, making this strictly a four-seater. If the car runs on just those motors, it will run out of electricity after about 50 miles. Which isn’t very good, to be honest. Especially when considering a diesel Audi A6, which is less than half the price of the Fisker, can go over 700 miles on one tank. Thankfully, though, the Karma has a trick up it’s exceptionally well designed sleeve.

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Under the hood the Karma has a 2.0 liter turbocharged four cylinder out of a Chevy Cobalt SS. That powerplant is good for another 260 horsepower, but that’s not what makes it interesting. When the batteries for the electric motors run out of juice, the gasoline engine kicks in, recharges the electric motors, and gives the car another 250 miles of range. The gas engine never actually powers the wheels, which is kind of what the Chevy Volt was supposed to do but never really did. So, situation report: altogether, the Fisker Karma develops a stirring 402 horsepower, over 950 lb-ft of torque and has a range of around 300 miles, depending on how nicely you drive. So the question now is: why aren’t we all driving these things?

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The answer, quite simply, is that we can’t. Fisker went bankrupt in late 2013, after the company, almost literally, went up in flames. First, in 2008, they were sued by Tesla, another electric car manufacturer. Then in 2011 they issued a recall on 239 Karmas because they might burst into flames on account of a coolant leak. At this point, the government withdrew their funding which, it must be said, was a wise move considering what came next. In March of 2012, Fisker lent a Karma to Consumer Reports for testing, whereupon it died immediately: refusing to start before it even finished the check-in process. Two months after that, one did burst into flames in Texas, burning down the owner’s house in the process. That summer, Fisker issued a recall of about 2400 cars, an incredible figure, considering they only made 2450 cars at that point. Then a shipment of 330 Karmas were ruined at the Port Newark-Elizabeth Marine Terminal in New Jersey during Hurricane Sandy. Then 16 of those burst into flames.

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So, it wasn’t the luckiest car company in the world. Nor was the Karma the most reliable vehicle you could buy if you had an extra $102,000 (!) lying around. However, if we can momentarily put aside the potential for a gruesome fiery death, there were some genuinely interesting things going on in the Karma. In order to conserve as much electric power as possible, most of the interior features, such as the navigation system, the lighting, the radio and even the key were powered by this big solar panel on the roof. All the unvarnished wood trim on the inside was sourced from rescued California wildfire trees. Even the paint contains exceptionally fine particles of recycled glass, giving it that crystal-flake appearance.

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The Fisker Karma is a complicated car to pin down. On the one hand, it has a slew of fascinating and revolutionary technology to geek out over. And it has goes from 0 to 60 in a hair under six seconds (mostly on account of it having more torque than a Bugatti Veyron), which satisfies everyone’s inner speed freak. But on the other hand, it’s way too expensive, especially considering its rampant and highly publicized reliability and quality issues, not to mention its tendency to explode into a flaming heap before it leaves the dealership. So, is it a good car? As much as I’d like to say yes, the answer is invariably no. The Karma is a car that attempts to be many different things: a sexy exotic, a environmental statement, a luxury car, a grand tourer, and a sports car. All of which are noble goals. It’s just a shame you need a flame retardant clothing to drive one.

Additional Thoughts:

  • This is one of very few cars to come with (and pull off) standard 22-inch wheels.
  • Because of its cozy interior dimensions, the government classifies the Karma as a compact car.
  • The “EV-er” badge in the second picture stands for “Electric Vehicle- Extended Range.”
  • Justin Bieber has a chrome-wrapped Karma, which is actually illegal in the state of California.
  • The Fisker was made in the same Finnish factory that produces Porsche Boxters and Caymans.
  • The pure electric mode of the car is called Stealth mode. If you don’t think that’s just the best, then you can’t come back until you’ve rediscovered your inner 9-year-old.
  • There still might be hope for the Karma! A Chinese company called the Wanxiang Group bought the rights to Fisker, and is reported to re-introduce the car in late 2014 or early 2015.
  • It’s over now, but the protest in the background of the first shot is the People’s Climate March, which is a really cool thing that you should check out.
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2 thoughts on “Saving The Polar Bears

  1. Pingback: Tuesdays With Morrie | Forgotten metal

  2. Pingback: Forgotten Places: 2016 New York International Auto Show (Part 2) | Forgotten metal

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