When I covered the auto markets as part of my beat at Dow Jones/Wall Street Journal in São Paulo in 2010, I used to bug General Motors to give me a test drive in the Chevy Volt. I wanted that car. So when I read Forbes contributor saying the Fisker Karma luxury electric sports car was a dud, I was a mix disappointed and skeptical that was truly the case.
of California basically exists because of its 2009 concept car Karma. It was well received at the Detroit Auto Show back then, but has since received some criticism from places as diverse as the New York Times to Car & Driver magazine for not meeting its claims on miles per gallon. The Karma recently got EPA certified, so that means it can sell its electric luxury sports car to the public.
Meyer, a Harvard PhD, says the car gets the miles per gallon equivalent of a Ford Explorer SUV. Actually, he said it was even worse, which would essentially make the Karma the worst electric vehicle ever made. How can that be? I asked Fisker to explain because I'm still saving the Volt.
Meyer said that Karma was ‘developed mainly with your tax money so that a bunch of rich VC’s wouldn’t have to risk any real risk’.
Fisker's corporate communications office says that is factually inaccurate. "Fisker Automotive has been funded mainly by private equity investment. We benefit from a Department of Energy loan awarded to us in small stages and for which every cent must be accounted for."
Meyer called Fisker's MPG claims a sham because the MPG equivalent figure of electric cars does not taking into account resources used in electricity production.
Fisker responded saying, "We would point out the word sham is very dangerous language to be using in this context. The Karma has been verified by the government agency that assesses all vehicles on sale in the US. More broadly the MPG of conventional gasoline powered cars does not take into account the oil drilling, transportation and multiple other costs associated with fuel production. This is a standard and fair comparable measurement for electric cars."
With its range-extender gasoline engine engaged, the Karma plug-in hybrid was rated this week by the EPA at a disappointing 20 miles per gallon. That's not much better than Meyer's math, actually.
According to the EPA, the Karma has a purely electric range of 32 miles, in the vicinity of the Chevrolet Volt’s 35-mile rating, and a mileage equivalent in battery mode of 52 MPGe, compared with the Volt’s 93 MPGe and the Toyota Prius, which can only go about two miles on battery alone.
“Over all, we’re pleased,” Roger Ormisher, a spokesman for Fisker on Friday regarding the EPA rating.
"Our car is verified by the EPA in the same way as all other electric and gasoline cars on the market," the company's press office told Forbes on Friday. "That Forbes takes issue with the EPA methodology is a fair comment and his to make, but to use a calculation based on that comment to assert that the Fisker Karma has lower fuel economy than a Ford Explorer SUV -- and then to use that as the headline, which is Google ranked under Forbes -- is fundamentally misleading. All ratings of the Karma have shown it to be better for the environment than a comparable conventional vehicle, or even the Toyota Prius," the company said.
Car and Driver said that one reason for the lower mileage per charge is the car's weight when running in electric-only mode.
People looking to pay over $80,000 for a luxury sports car that burns less fossil fuels might go after Fisker's sleek ride, but while they are saving the environment by using less oil, they aren't saving much money. A $25,000 Prius averages 51 miles per gallon. The $50 grand saved on any luxury hybrid cuts down on gasoline expense over time, but that is unlikely a concern of a Karma driver.
With a slod nod to class division, Meyer wrote that the Fisker Karma does serve a social purpose, saying that Hollywood celebrities and the ultra rich "who want to display their green credentials, no longer have to be stuck with a little econobox. They can now enjoy a little leg room and luxury."
This might be true. All shoppers in the market for a luxury car can enjoy the benefit of a Fisker Karma, which is priced at less than $100,000.
--The New York Times
--Car and Driver