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Top Gear Hosts Finally Give Thumbs Up to Hybrids With Luxury Award

RP Siegel | Tuesday December 6th, 2011 | 3 Comments

Top of the Fisker Karma

It would probably strike you as somewhat out-of-place to even be talking about a car that won the British Top Gear TV show’s Luxury Car of the Year Award, in a magazine devoted to sustainability. After all, this is the kind of award that has historically gone to cars like the $405,000 453 HP Rolls Royce Phantom Coupe, whose 11 mpg would more likely have sustainability-minded viewers rolling their eyes in contempt, rather than trying to figure out how to get one.

This only makes this year’s winner all the more surprising, if not enticing, in more ways than one. First, because the winner was a hybrid electric model that the European ratings agency TUV, gave an impressive equivalent fuel economy rating of 112 mpg (EPA only gave it 52). Second, because it was not a Tesla. Third because it was a car that I had had never heard of, and fourth, because this is an American car!

We are talking here about the Fisker Karma. Fisker Automotive (no relation to Fiskars, the Finnish scissors company) has its headquarters in Anaheim, California.

The Karma is a sleek and sexy sports car that can accelerate very fast due to its dependence on two high-torque 201.5 HP electric motors that are directly coupled to the front wheels. You could call it a plug-in hybrid, but they call it an extended-range electric vehicle. In operation it is much more like an electric car than a conventional hybrid since the 2.0 liter, 260 HP fuel-injected gasoline engine, is directly coupled with a 175kW generator, as a 250 mile range-extender to supplement the 50 mile range of the on-board Li-ion batteries.

With a sticker price of $95,000 this is not a car for Everyman. This is not the place to debate the merits of luxury, but rather only to point out, that one could spend this kind of money or more for a Maserati or a Bentley that would have a far higher carbon footprint. At that price point it becomes more a matter of making a statement than anything else.

The Fisker does happen to be less expensive than the Tesla Roadster ($109k), with a 20 percent larger cruising range. Tesla does have it beat, however, in both 0-60 acceleration (3.7 sec.) and EPA equivalent mileage rating (111 mpg).

Company founder Henrik Fisker made his name as a designer for BMW and Aston-Martin. The Danish designer said he just wanted to show the public that green design could be cool. One of his first customers was Leonardo de Caprio.

Fisker received a $529 million loan from the DOE in 2009, an amount comparable to what Solyndra received, though it seems that the DOE is well poised to recoup that investment.

The Karma uses exclusively reclaimed wood on the dashboard and trim, an animal free interior, and a solar panel on the roof that can collect additional electric power to charge the batteries when the car is parked.

[Image Credit: Fisker Website]

RP Siegel, PE, is the President of Rain Mountain LLC. He is also the co-author of the eco-thriller Vapor Trails, the first in a series covering the human side of various sustainability issues including energy, food, and water.  Like airplanes, we all leave behind a vapor trail. And though we can easily see others’, we rarely see our own.


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  • BJ

    One correction: The Karma is actually propelled by a pair of 201.5HP motors powering the rear wheels. They have a combined output of 403HP producing 959 lb/ft of torque.

    • RP SIegel

      Thanks, so noted.

      • PMK

        Also, the motors drive the rear wheels, not the front.