Fisker Automotive, the electric car company that somehow raised more than a billion dollars, is dealing with another PR headache.
Turns out, a few months ago, a second Fisker Karma burst into flames. Just like the first fire, Fisker will be sending its own inspectors to check out the incident.
In all fairness, internal combustion engine vehicles catch fire every day. But in this early development of electric cars, even a single fire can fan the flames of speculation. Although I believe these two fires and a previous recall on a hose clamp that could've potentially led to a fire, speak more about the company and the vehicle – and not the market as a whole.
For me, I have no use for an electric car. I have to drive about 90 miles every day, and I need a truck to pull my boat. But I do know people that own electric cars and love them. Though none of them own a Fisker Karma. And from what I understand, there are a lot of electric car supporters that don't even like this car.
Sure, it's a luxury car, too. But as far as fuel economy, you can pretty much get the same thing with a Chevy Volt, which costs about $60,000 less. Yes, the Karma is only for the rich. Which is fine. But it doesn't change the fact that for about $100,000, you're basically getting a really fancy plug-in hybrid electric car (runs in both all-electric mode and gas-powered mode) that, while you can drive in all-electric mode for roughly 30 miles, only gives you a combined 52 mpg fuel economy. That's not much bang for your buck.
You can buy a Prius (a conventional hybrid) for $23k and get 50 mpg!
But it's not really fair to compare the two. The Fisker Karma really is a luxury car designed to compete with other luxury models. The problem is, it's “eco” credibility is useless for most treehuggers. The bottom line is that the Chevy Volt and Nissan LEAF use less petroleum than the Karma. And that's the ultimate sell. The luxury stuff is really just for egos and chest-pounding.
Although it's worth pointing out that for those “green” types who have a bit of extra cash (but aren't insanely wealthy), they're probably going to buy a Tesla Model S – which is definitely a high-end vehicle, but comes in at much lower price, and has superior a fuel economy compared to the Karma.
At $70,000, you can get the high-end Model S which will give you 300 miles on a single charge. The Fisker Karma will also give you a 300-mile range, but to reach that range, you have to fill it up with gas. Remember, the all-electric range is only about 30 miles.
The Model S also comes in a base model that runs about $50,000. That'll get you 160 miles on a charge.
So really, the only thing you get with a Fisker Karma that the others can't touch is the high level of luxury. Because the Karma really is a decked-out vehicle. But most people shelling out $100,000 for this car probably don't really care too much about fuel economy. It's a great status symbol for actors and wealthy do-gooders who want to act like they give a crap about the environment.
And what will happen with Fisker Automotive going forward?
Will the company continue to have problems in these early stages?
I doubt it. They'll probably get this stuff figured out pretty soon. But they'll never be able to compete with Tesla (NASDAQ:TSLA) on volume, and they'll never be able to compete against the majors, like GM (NYSE:GM), Nissan (PINK SHEETS:NSANY), Toyota (NYSE:TM) and Mitsubishi (PINK SHEETS:MMTOF) on cost.
No, this will continue to be a rich man's toy. That's all it'll ever be. And lumping it in with the electric vehicle movement – it's really just semantics. Cut through the green hype, and this is just a very expensive luxury vehicle that shows the world you're a pretty successful individual. The electric part? Eh, you can take it or leave it.
Fisker Karma: The Irrelevant Electric Car originally appeared in Energy and Capital. Energy and Capital, a free daily newsletter, offers practical investment analysis in the new energy economy.