You may not be familiar with Fisker Automotive, but the small company is about to make big waves with its stunning plug-in hybrid.
By Bill Heald
The automotive world is getting a bit more complicated. For more than a century, we got along fine with just an internal combustion engine. But now, thanks to fuel-consumption and environmental concerns, engineers have been doing some serious tinkering and hybrids are becoming mainstream. Most famous is the Toyota Prius, which uses a battery-powered electric motor to contribute to the propulsion of the car so it can run on the motor, the gas engine, or both together. The Honda Insight, however, uses a motor to basically help out the engine so you can get acceptable performance out of a much smaller gas mill.
Now we’re entering the realm of mixed-power drivetrains known as plug-in hybrids. The first big production version will be the Chevy Volt, due out next year, which has an electric motor with a battery pack that you charge by plugging it in. There’s still a gas engine onboard, so if the batteries run out of juice the mill fires up to charge them and keep you on the move. This differs from a full electric like the Tesla Roadster; when its batteries run down you need an electrical outlet or you ain’t going nowhere.
As interesting a concept as the Volt is, the car itself is far from fast, and even further from stimulating to gaze upon—unlike the Fisker Karma, which is the complete opposite of the frumpish Chevy. Created by a small company staffed with designers and engineers harvested from all over the auto industry, the Karma is not only a plug-in hybrid loaded with innovative technology, it’s also a groundbreaking sedan that sets a new benchmark for sensuous, cutting-edge styling. When you walk around its long, lean form, everything seems to flow just right. There’s two-plus-two seating, thanks to the huge lithium-ion battery pack that runs through the center of the cabin like a huge console; it can be charged using a 110- or 220-volt outlet, and once fully juiced, it can power the electric motors that drive the rear wheels for around 50 miles. This aspect of the Karma’s Q-Drive sys tem is called Stealth Mode (the gas engine is asleep), and once it’s past this point the turbocharged Ecotec engine fires up and generates electric ity that directly powers the motors. The engine also comes into play when you select Power Mode (using a paddle switch on the steering wheel), so this swoopy ride has an engine that’s only onboard to serve as a port able power plant that delivers precious electrons to the drive motors. This is an interesting setup, because it’s logical to assume that in time you could substitute some other kind of gen erator (like a fuel cell). The drivetrain just needs a source of electricity to launch you down your favorite back road.
And while it’s a super eco-friendly machine both in emissions and fuel use (an estimated 67 miles per gallon, although the more you plug it in, the less gas you use), it’s also a rocket. With more than 400 horsepower, tractor-like torque, and a sophisticated, fully independent suspension mated to a stout, light weight aluminum space frame, the Karma will flat-out rock while doing its bit to save the planet and slash your need for petroleum. Of course, in the babe magnet category it’s in a class of its own, for to see a Fisker in person is to see an entity that effortlessly lures in all comers. Production starts this spring, and a convertible is in the works as well—just in time for summer.