Here’s a conversation I’m having with a friend about the mess at Fisker, i.e., the departure of the company’s founder.
Craig: That’s incredible about Fisker. What do you make of all this?
Friend: It reminds me of John DeLorean in the 1980s and the movie “Tucker” about Preston Tucker in the 1940s. These were very talented, ego-intensive designers, like Henrik Fisker. You have to be willing to play the corporate bureaucracy game in the auto industry, and it involves a boatload of cash flow and is very labor intensive. The automotive sector is filled with stories about engineers and designers clashing, and the same with designers and accountants/bean counters. Fisker Automotive has been facing the big squeeze for several months. I expect a bankruptcy filing or low-priced Chinese investment, or both, like A123 Systems. Fisker makes a very fine car that I’ve enjoyed driving, but it will probably go away.
Craig: In the 4 – 5 years that I was seeing Fisker at the auto shows in L.A. and Detroit, I noted that each year, a) they seemed to be equally far from completion, and b) that the “booth babes” and the ropes around their zillion-dollar prototype were keeping any of us in the media from getting anywhere close to even touching the car. That perturbed me, but not as much as this:
Personally, even leaving out personalities and corporate politics, I’m not sure the car itself has what it takes (had what it took? ) to be successful. Imagine you’re one of the rare breed that:
Is willing and able to pay $100K for a car
Wants an EV, presumably because of environmental / geopolitical concerns
Is worried about range, and thus prefers a PHEV (plug-in hybrid) to a BEV (battery electric)
If I were in that situation, I’d get a full-loaded Tesla-S, and be done with it. I wouldn’t be carting around a heavy, expensive, and defect-prone internal combustion engine.
Of course, the real “game” in the automotive world isn’t catering to a handful of movie stars who can pay whatever they want for their cars. Rather, it’s offering affordable transportation that slowly (or, better yet, quickly) erodes the 230 million gas- and diesel-powered cars and trucks on our roads (while we retire the remaining coal plants).
The market has a way of jettisoning the bad ideas of the world, regardless of the charisma of the proponent. Another recent example in a slightly different realm was Shai Agassi’s pitching battery swapping in the United States, a landmass of 3.5 million square miles. Here’s the poster child for a bad, utterly impractical idea. But that didn’t deter Agassi – for a few years, at least. Yet the idea did finally come down with a crash.
I’ve always said that the bad ideas really are the true enemy of cleantech and sustainability. In the end, there aren’t thousands of good ideas; there are just a few – and it’s our job to locate them and do what we can to move them forward.