Will Fisker’s floundering leave early Karma buyers running on empty?

fisker floundering headerFisker has pretty much shut down, giving us a rare glimpse at one of the unexpected risks of buying a car from a brand new provider that might not make it. Since it has been a long time since we had car companies launch in the US at scale, you have to go back a long time to companies like Muntz and DeLorean to watch a similar sequence of events unfold. DeLorean is probably the best-case scenario for owners: There is actually still a company by the same name that is providing parts and service for the car, and from what I’ve heard, you can actually work with them to get a car that will likely hold up better than the new ones did.

But Fisker, and all current-generation electrics and hybrids, are very complex beasts. They remind me more of the problematic Aston Martin Lagonda; the company clearly didn’t go under, but the Lagonda is its one famous failure. You can buy one for a song, because its complexity makes keeping it running is a nightmare. And the Lagonda is simple, compared to the Fisker, suggesting owners would really be screwed.

But there may be early help on the horizon. Let’s chat about why Fisker failed, why Tesla may be in trouble, and then talk about the good news for both companies.

Government funding

Both Fisker and Tesla benefitted from a large amount of government support, but while the piles of cash provided seemed huge, they were still inadequate for the considerable task. We saw something similar happen with government funding of the US solar industry. Company after company failed and today, after all of that effort, most solar production is in China, which fully funded its effort and now basically has nearly cornered the market on solar panels.

So there is hope for Fisker owners! It just won’t be cheap. But then again, having a hot car that no one else has never is.

To bring in a different kind of fueling system, you need to build out infrastructure and make massive improvements in battery longevity, cost, and charge time. These improvements are going on, but not at the pace needed to ramp up volume. Fisker hedged its bets by taking what appeared to be the smarter hybrid route. But this approach the company didn’t win Fisker get the level of support Tesla got. It also avoided generic design and released a rolling show car. The styling drew attention from consumers, but the car was less practical and underperformed other cars in its price class as a result.

Tesla’s uncertain future boils down to politics. It still relies on government funding to keep afloat, which typically comes from the Democratic Party. When Carter lost the election in the early 80s, his better-funded programs collapsed as Republicans withdrew funding. I recall this because it pretty much financially wiped out a whole wing of my family.

Despite clearly building the best electric vehicles currently on the market, Tesla is about five years from being able to easily survive the loss of government subsidies. But Obama has less than four years left in office. It’s is going to be close. Fortunately for Tesla, Clinton appears the strongest of all the 2016 candidates, but then again, she did before Obama entered the race last time too. And the Republicans are pissed this time around.

A future for Fisker (thanks to GM)

Apparently Bob Lutz is planning to stick LS9 engines under the Fisker body and turn it into a real supercar. While the price for the finished vehicle is steep at $180,000, once someone figures out how to do something like this, others typically follow, and folks that bought Fisker cars are typically pretty well off. The end result will be a car that actually lives up to its looks, because this is the same engine put in the really fast Corvette ZR-1. Granted, you’d never be able to run off the battery again, and the gas mileage wouldn’t be great, but the end result should be far easier to get serviced, and likely capable of lasting as long as you do. Apparently Lutz is estimating the conversion would cost between $85,000 and $90,000 initially, but I expect (and hope) this will drop.

LS9 engineBack when the Aston Martin Lagonda was created, we were just learning about electronics and didn’t do them particularly well. We’ve learned a lot since then, and while doing this conversion yourself would be nearly impossible, Lutz is likely to get this well sorted. Converted Karmas should be more in line with, and likely better than, early Ford Cobras or Sunbeam Alpines.

So there is hope for Fisker owners! It just won’t be cheap. But then again, having a hot car that no one else has never is. And as far as value, if you got a Fisker you got something truly unique that was rolling art, and only had around $90,000 at risk. If you bought a Maybach, Rolls Royce, or Bentley instead, your car likely would have depreciated nearly that much over the same period of time anyway. Meanwhile, used Fisker cars appear to be still selling close to their offer price. So if you bought a Fisker, given you have choices and your car hasn’t yet depreciated that much, you may be in better shape than your exotic car peers. Go figure.

(Images ©2011 Fisker Automotive, Inc. All rights reserved.)

The views expressed here are solely those of the author and do not reflect the beliefs of Digital Trends.

Emerging Tech

Say cheese: InSight lander posts a selfie from the surface of Mars

NASA's InSight mission to Mars has commemorated its arrival by posting a selfie. The selfie is a composite of 11 different images which were taken by one of its instruments, the Instrument Deployment Camera.

Sprint’s 5G rollout: Everything you need to know

Sprint is building its next-gen 5G network in preparation for a 2019 rollout, but it's taking a decidedly different approach than some of its competitors, including Verizon and AT&T. Here's everything you need to know.

Microsoft’s Chromium Edge browser may be adding your Chrome extensions

Fans sticking to Google Chrome because due to its vast extension library might be able to switch over to Microsoft's latest iteration of Edge, as a project manager confirms that the company has its eyes on Chrome extensions.

Honor to out-megapixel the competition with 48MP camera on upcoming View 20

After its phenomenal success with the View 10 in 2018, it looks like Honor is getting ready up the ante with its forthcoming Honor View 20. Here's everything we know about it so far.

LM Industries’ autonomous shuttles head to Phoenix, Sacramento campuses

LM Industries will deploy Olli low-speed autonomous shuttles at school campuses in Arizona and California as part of its ongoing "fleet challenge," which asks local groups to propose uses for autonomous vehicles.

Bosch’s CES-bound shuttle concept takes us on a trip to a not-too-distant future

Bosch envisions a future in which driverless shuttles occupy their own market segment. The German firm won't build the shuttles, but it wants to provide everything else, ranging from the drive system to the apps used to hail them.

Driving a prototype 2020 Passat at Volkswagen’s Arizona Proving Ground

Volkswagen’s Arizona Proving Ground is where new cars are tested to the breaking point, including the 2020 Passat midsize sedan. Ride along as the new Passat completes testing ahead of its 2019 launch.
Emerging Tech

A lidar-equipped truck knows exactly how much de-icer to apply on roads

Lidar is best known as the laser-based technology that helps self-driving cars sense their surroundings. But the city of Knoxville has another, more seasonal use for it: De-icing roads.
Product Review

Boring takes a back seat as 2019 Corolla Hatchback mixes fun with practicality

We drive the 2019 Toyota Corolla Hatchback, the latest hatchback to bear the Corolla name. As the best-selling nameplate in automotive history, Toyota has high expectations to meet. This model mostly lives up to the legacy.

Hertz speeds up car rentals with biometric scan technology

Biometric security technology that uses face, fingerprint, and voice recognition is gaining traction, with Hertz emerging as the latest company to incorporate it into its daily operations.
Product Review

Inside Maserati's Levante SUV beats the heart of a Ferrari

Maserati’s luxury SUV gets a shot in the arm by way of Ferrari-derived V8 power, but is it enough to go toe-to-toe with the established players in the high performance sport-utility segment? Let’s find out.

McLaren puts the pedal to the metal in special-edition OnePlus 6T

The OnePlus 6T is yet another flagship killer smartphone, bringing powerful specifications to a much lower price than the competition. Now, OnePlus has teamed up with McLaren for the OnePlus 6T McLaren Edition.

Aston Martin’s 1,000-hp Valkyrie will boast the Mona Lisa of the engine world

Aston Martin has released new details about its F1-inspired Valkyrie hypercar. Co-developed with Red Bull Racing, the Valkyrie will be one of the most aerodynamic production cars ever made.

The redesigned 2020 Passat shows Volkswagen still believes in sedans

The sedan segment in America is shrinking, but Volkswagen still believes in it. The German firm has released a teaser sketch to preview the redesigned 2020 Passat it will introduce during the 2019 Detroit Auto Show.