Leading up to and since beginning sales last month of the extended-range Fisker Karma, the company has maintained an optimistic tone in the face of public relations ups and downs.

After initially making bold sales projections , company representatives quietly ceased saying that 3,000 Karmas would be delivered worldwide in the last two months of the year, and are saying only things are hopping without being quite as specific.

This decision came after the Karma received less-than-projected U.S. efficiency ratings and the EPA made itself the brunt of automotive journalists’ jokes by officially designating Fisker's $100k, 16.5-foot-long, 5,300 pound luxury hi-po machine a humble “subcompact.”


Henrik Fisker stands by what is likely his current favorite car – one with his name on it, intended to prove itself a first for a new American car company.

Early adopters who know better, and already prepared to shell out $96,000-and up for the first Karmas are not expected to be dissuaded by the government’s classification and estimate of just 32 miles of all-electric range, 52 MPGe, and 20 mpg with generator running.

They might even be impressed by the German government’s recent vindication of Henrik Fisker’s consistent statements that the Karma is well-capable of 50 miles of AER.

This week Fisker announced the Technischer Ueberwachungs-Verein (TÜV) determined the Karma is indeed certifiable at 51.6 miles AER.

Yes, 52 miles AER is more like it. And Fisker was quick to praise the Euro agency for pinning a more impressive number on the car.

“The TÜV have carried out the most thorough tests yet of the Karma’s real-world urban performance," Fisker said in a statement. "This is an independent process that measures every element of the Fisker Karma luxury plug-in hybrid’s performance.”



 

Of the German tests, the founder of the company said he too was gratified.

“We are delighted that the TÜV has confirmed that most owners will achieve a 50 mile range running purely on electric during their daily commute,” Henrik Fisker said.

You can be sure also that Karma salesmen will be mentioning this TÜV rating, and giving anecdotes as needed to qualify the whole situation, despite the depressing EPA label showing less impressive numbers.

The EPA did award the Karma the highest possible score of 10 out of 10 for fuel economy and greenhouse gas emissions on its label.


Some of the meaningful praise garnered amidst dubious criticism includes the Karma having just been awarded "2012 Design of the Year" by Automobile Magazine .

But Uncle Sam’s measuring stick is still in question considering the EPA says the Karma is now officially in the same classification as a Chevy Sonic. Unlike the automotive industry which takes into consideration weight and dimensions, the federal agency looked only at the Karma’s sub-100-cubic feet interior dimensions and declared forthwith it shall be known as a subcompact.

Government designations notwithstanding, unless someone wants to pull a sophomoric spoof, don’t expect to see any automotive shootouts between the 403-horsepower luxury sports car and a feisty 138-horsepower Sonic, even if the street-smart Chevy can parachute out of an airplane.

But if this is not enough PR confusion to combat by the aspiring American automaker, the Irvine, Calif.-based company has also had to defend itself against accusations that it was siphoning off U.S. taxpayer funded loans and diverting them overseas.

By now, most readers here have heard reports that were presented as investigative pieces, but really were inconclusive. Allegations on brief TV news spots delivered in grave and concerned tones were that foreign transplant Fisker gladly took $529 million in low-interest money and did not uphold its obligations under the good-faith gesture endorsed by the Obama administration.

Is this proof of a "taxpayer boondoggle?" Not really, but "the people want some answers," ABC says with all due sincerity ...


In response, Fisker issued a press release denying allegations. Here is what it said:

• Not a single dollar of the DoE loans has been, or will be, spent outside of America. All expenditures are reviewed by PwC (PriceWaterhouseCoopers) on behalf of the DoE.
• After receiving the DoE loan, Fisker made it a priority to create U.S. jobs which led to the purchase its own assembly plant in Delaware where we plan to establish production of our second, higher volume, line of vehicles (Project Nina).
• There are currently over 100 workers reconfiguring the Delaware plant so that Fisker will be ready to begin hiring a skilled hourly workforce to producing its Nina platform vehicles in the U.S. for sale around the world. Many of these Delaware costs are covered by the DoE loans.
• For the Karma program, the DoE loan money was used solely in the U.S. to fund design, engineering, and integration work.
• Only private equity financing, of which we have raised over $600 million so far, has been used for costs not covered by the DoE loans, of which only a small part is production costs in Finland.
• The majority of our private funding has been used to create jobs, including 650 people at Fisker’s headquarters in California, over 100 at the Delaware plant and many more at various suppliers throughout the U.S.
• At the inception of the company, Fisker explored the possibility of producing the Karma in the U.S. However, there are no contract manufacturers like Valmet in the U.S., and none of the established domestic automakers were willing to partner with Fisker to provide a manufacturing option in the U.S. that would work for the Karma program. Our assembly arrangement for the Karma was in place before the DoE loans were approved, and has been widely reported on since 2009.
• There is no link between Fisker Automotive and any political party. We are politically neutral – our focus is on building luxury electric vehicles.
• More than 45% of the components of the Fisker Karma sedan are manufactured by approximately 40 suppliers located in the U.S. Some of our biggest suppliers in the U.S. include A123 Systems (Li-ion battery), General Motors Springhill Engine Plant (gasoline engine), Goodyear (tires) and TRW (regenerative braking system).
• The Fisker Karma is the world’s first environmentally-responsible luxury sedan with a unique hybrid electric powertrain developed by a highly-skilled team of engineers and designers in America.
• With the help of DoE loans, Fisker has already created hundreds of U.S. jobs, with thousands more in the near future. Ultimately Fisker is a high-tech American car company that we’re confident will be an American success story to be celebrated.

We reported previously some of these facts a few weeks ago just a day or two before the Big Story blew. We'll update it now given that last week Bloomberg reported Fisker did cut its orders of A123 Systems lithium-ion batteries, and the Massachusetts battery company’s stock took a 10-percent further dive.

A123 now says full year sales will be $165-180 million, down from previous forecasts of $210-225 million. Fisker also supplies GM and Daimler AG, among others, and CEO David Vieau said only that Fisker is balancing inventories from all suppliers, and offered no further details aside from a general statement.



 

“Our relationship with Fisker remains strong, and we expect that this reduction in volume is temporary,” Vieau said. “We are executing a plan that we believe will manage costs in the near term while allowing us to maintain the manufacturing and operational capabilities required to quickly ramp up production.”

What does it all mean?

Nothing definitive at this point, but it does show the road to launching your own whole new American auto company can be rocky, especially in this contentious politicized atmosphere. To its credit, Fisker is displaying all the chutzpah one would expect of a company taking the risks it is. It has defended its claims, and has been at least partially vindicated on all of them.

The Karma does not pretend to be a Volt competitor. Fisker's first car is a high-end entry into the green American automotive space exactly following Tesla's example which began with its six- figure Roadster, then went down-market to its pending S-model, after proving what it could do.

Make no mistake: It's a bold strategy to start closer to the top, rather than the low end. If Fisker succeeds, it will show itself to have the technical and design credentials to make selling $40-50k Project Nina vehicles built in Delaware much less of a struggle, or so one would think.

Right now everything looks murky with all the smoke screens being deployed, but if Fisker pulls it off, it will come out from the morass using a former GM plant to take on an apparently timid GM and its limited-till-later Voltec platform with three home-grown EVers. In three year's time, Fisker could be viewed as more "American" than Fiat-owned Chrysler, but we shall see.

Ultimately, proof of the Karma will be in sales not just in the short term after the eager first buyers snap up their beautiful green cars, but going forward. No doubt also, the sooner Project Nina can get up and running, and prove itself in the face of similar hurdles and critics, the better we will know whether Fisker will be all that it says it intends to be.