If Fisker Automotive Goes Away, It Won’t Be The First Bad Idea To Do So.

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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.

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About Author

Walter’s contributions to CleanTechies over the past 4 years have been instrumental in growing the publications social media channels via his ongoing editorial and data driven strategies. He is the founder and managing director of Sunflower Tax, a renewable energy tax and finance consultancy based in San Diego, California. Active in the San Diego clean technology community, participating in events sponsored by CleanTech San Diego, EcoTopics, and Cleantech Open San Diego, Walter has also been a presenter at numerous California Center for Sustainability (CCSE) programs. He currently serves as an adjunct professor at the University of San Diego School of Law where he teaches a course on energy taxation and policy.

1 Comment

  1. I work for Fisker and while there are some valid points in this story, it oversimplifies a lot and completeley overlooks even more. Visionaries are the ones that spur change. The Karma is the world’s first luxury Electric Vehicle with extended range and has every other premium brand developing their own versions (e.g. BMW i8, Cadillac ELR, Audi eTron). The Karma was developed in record time: 47 months from concept to showroom. An incredible feat for a new car with new technology from a new company. You say the Karma is a bad idea, and one that is a ‘true enemy of cleantech and sustainability’ but the fact is the 400hp Karma can get better mileage and has lower CO2 emissions than a Prius, according to http://www.fueleconomy.gov. The Karma is also the first and only American car (and the only electric car) to win Top Gear’s Luxury Car of the Year award. It also won Automobile Magazine’s Design of the Year plus several of other techonology and design awards. If you question the car’s cost, let’s not lose sight of the fact that the Karma is a techonology leader paving the way for alternative energy to make inroads into lower priced, higher volume markets. Whatever the future may hold for the company, the industry and the marketplace will never be the same. That in itself is success.

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