The History of Fisker: What to Know
After many setbacks and delays, electric vehicle manufacturer Fisker is poised to see its first electric vehicle (EV) roll off of the production line. Its partners are ready to start mass production of its flagship Ocean SUV – a battery-electric sport utility vehicle with a solar roof and seat upholstery made from recycled plastic bottles – in November 2022. The company uses an “asset-light” strategy, which focuses on engineering, development, and marketing. Meanwhile, it leaves production to partners Magna International in Graz, Austria and Taiwanese contract manufacturer Foxconn, operating out of the former GM Lordstown plant in Ohio.
Fisker has grown strongly over the past two years, with their employee count now above 540. The first 55 prototype Ocean SUVs were built in Graz and shipped to the USA for finalized design. Here’s a closer look at how Fisker got where it is today, and what EVs it’s planning for the coming years.
- Year Founded
- Henrik Fisker, Bernhard Koehler
- Electric vehicles
- Manhattan Beach, California
- Key People
- Henrik Fisker, Bernhard Koehler, Geeta Gupta-Fisker
- Notable Products
- Fisker Ocean, Fisker Pear, Fisker Ronin
The Founding of Fisker: How It Happened
Henrik Fisker, the founding father of first First Automotive and its successor Fisker Inc., has a long history in automotive design. His background includes work at both Aston Martin and German carmaker BMW. Both Aston Martin and BMW produce luxury cars, likely influencing Fisker’s original plans to create a high-end EV with a price tag above $100,000. According to Business Insider, Fisker played a key role developing the BMW Z8.
The Danish businessman managed to secure $200 million in investment to start his dream automotive company, Forbes reported. He partnered with another car industry veteran, Bernhard Koehler. The pair launched Fisker Automotive in 2007. From the start, he implemented the company’s famed asset-light approach, hiring contractors rather than full-time employees for engineering. He also planned to outsource manufacturing in precisely the way Fisker eventually did, and continues to do to this day.
In 2009, Henrik Fisker was working to secure government funding for his fledgling enterprise. He told Forbes, “The biggest transition in the 100-year history of the auto industry is going to happen in the next 24 months.”
Fisker through the Years
2007-2013 – First Attempt
Henrik Fisker and Bernhard Koehler launched Fisker Automotive during the tail end of 2007. They planned to produce the Fisker Karma, a plug-in electric hybrid (PHEV) with a price tag in the $88,000 to $100,000 range. The design featured a battery running down the center line of the EV, intruding awkwardly into the cabin. The EV, intended to be a sports car, had curious styling, with a stretched front hood and a cramped passenger cabin. Electric-only range was 32 miles, while the vehicle got 52 miles per gallon in hybrid mode.
Fisker actually got the Karma into production and gave several working vehicles to celebrities, along with selling some to private purchasers. Ill fortune dogged the Karma, however. A123 Systems, Fisker’s battery supplier, went bankrupt and out of business. Several Karma EVs burned while parked, with the battery pack likely the culprit. Most famously, 16 Karmas newly imported from Finland incinerated when Hurricane Sandy flooded a New Jersey port facility.
Loans and Mounting Troubles
Earlier, on April 23, 2010, the U.S. Department of Energy issued a $528.7 million loan to Fisker. Then-Vice President Joe Biden said, “The story of Fisker is a story of ingenuity of an American company.” He also said the loan was, “Helping America’s auto industry reclaim its top position in the global market.” Despite these rosy sentiments, Fisker continued to lose large amounts of cash. Cost overruns and poor design decisions that had to be reworked consumed the loan. By 2011 the Department of Energy refused to give any more money and Fisker burned through its remaining cash.
As Fisker Automotive’s fortunes spiraled downward, Henrik Fisker resigned in March 2013. An official statement said his resignation was due to, “Several major disagreements…with the Fisker Automotive executive management on the business strategy,” CNN Business reports. The company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in November 2013.
2016-2020 – Private Company
Henrik Fisker relaunched his defunct company in 2016 with a new focus: affordable EVs for ordinary drivers. Originally, he intended to revamp the Karma; however, the new Karma never materialized and Fisker hopped from idea to idea until settling on a $40,000 affordable EV SUV in 2018. The concept eventually grew into the Ocean.
In a September 2018 interview with CleanTechnica, Fisker laid out the outline of the future Ocean. He also expressed an interest in solid state batteries and ultra-fast charging. At that point, Fisker wanted a battery pack capable of taking a full charge in under 10 minutes. The company continued work and, in early 2020, received $50 million in private financing.
2020-Present Day – Public Company
Fisker Inc. opted to go public in 2020 through a merger with a special-purpose acquisition company called Spartan Energy Acquisition Corp. The merger finalized on October 29, 2020, with Fisker listed on the NYSE the following day. The company received about $1 billion in cash from the launch, money that continues funding its operations today.
Continuing the asset-light approach, Fisker inked partnerships with two manufacturers in 2021. One, Magna International, will make Ocean SUVs in Graz, Austria. The other, Foxconn, is a Taiwan-headquartered contract manufacturer that owns the Lordstown manufacturing complex formerly used by General Motors. Fisker is gearing up for production of the Ocean SUV to begin on November 17, 2022.
The company says it expects to have 80,000 reservations by 2022’s end. Henrik Fisker said, “The enthusiasm we’re seeing worldwide for the Fisker Ocean is nothing short of humbling,” Carscoops reports. Fisker Inc. is investigating an increase of manufacturing above the 50,000 vehicles it originally aimed to make annually. It is also researching USA production to meet the American-made requirements for EV tax breaks in the Inflation Reduction Act.
What Are the Most Important Products from Fisker?
Fisker is an EV automaker with one electric vehicle nearing full-scale production and at least three more under development.
Fisker’s flagship EV, the Fisker Ocean, is a sporty SUV with its top surfaces covered in solar panels. Its solar power, supplementing battery range in sunny climates, makes it akin to the Aptera solar electric vehicle. Fisker claims the sunlight-absorbing roof adds 1,500 miles to range yearly on average and 2,000 miles under perfect conditions. The Ocean can also act as a power source, running appliances and some tools, or sharing charge with another EV.
The Ocean SUV has an affordable base trim currently priced at under $40,000, plus three luxury trims. The most powerful variant generates 550 horsepower and zooms from 0-60 mph in 3.6 seconds. Fisker’s engineers built the Ocean with decent cargo space and 4,000 pounds of towing capacity. Henrik Fisker says all 5,000 launch edition Oceans sold out and customers placed 56,000 reservations. Electrek also reports the CEO says large-scale manufacturing starts on November 17, 2022.
Fisker plans release of an affordable subcompact EV dubbed Project Pear, or simply the Fisker Pear. While the Pear isn’t even officially unveiled yet, the company indicates it already has 4,000 pre-orders for the vehicle. Unlike the Ocean, Fisker intends to build the Pear in the United States at contract manufacturer Foxconn’s Lordstown, Ohio factory. Performance Drive reports the company means to start production in 2024 with an ambitious manufacturing goal of 250,000 vehicles yearly. Fisker wants to boost the number built annually to one million by 2027.
Henrik Fisker remarks the Pear “looks like a futuristic little space shuttle” and calls it a “funky vehicle” defying standard classifications like SUV. The CEO also said the rear cargo area has a unique access method for very cramped spaces, unlike the standard hatchback. Fisker wants the Pear to be highly affordable with a starting price less than $30,000.
Fisker’s most daring project is perhaps the Fisker Ronin, also known as Project Ronin. The company’s engineers envision the Ronin as a powerful convertible sports car with a jaw-dropping 600-mile range. Car and Driver reports the intended 0-60 mph time for the EV is two seconds flat. The all-electric powertrain would feature a tri-motor setup and all-wheel drive or AWD.
Concept art shows the Ronin as an aggressively-styled ultramodern sports car seating four.
Fisker says it will unveil additional details in August 2023, with manufacturing to follow sometime in autumn or winter 2024.
Originally revealed by accident in a three-word 2020 tweet from Henrik Fisker, the Alaska is the company’s entry in the EV pickup market. The company hasn’t pinned down dates for production or release to consumers. Nevertheless, some information seems to show the Alaska could be available in 2025. The pickup features a four-door cab with seating for five people and styling somewhere between a standard pickup and the alien-looking Tesla Cybertruck. Some news sources say the Alaska may be suited to off-roading. Others report Fisker describes the Alaska as a “lifestyle” vehicle, therefore with less utility features than more rugged alternatives.
How Does Fisker Make Money?
Fisker is currently operating at a loss, though quarterly losses are slowly declining. It secured funding of about $1 billion through an October 29, 2020, merger with Spartan Energy Acquisition, The Street reports. Spartan is a special purpose acquisition company, founded specifically to merge with another company and take it public.
As of August 2022, Fisker is still operating using the remaining cash from its SPAC merger. The company has enough money remaining to operate throughout 2022 at current cash burn rates. It also makes money from Fisker Ocean reservations and will eventually earn most of its profits from EV sales.
July 2021: Allego – $10 Million and Strategic Partnership
Though not an acquisition, Fisker invested $10 million into Allego in July 2021. Fisker also entered into a strategic partnership with Allego, a company operating a fast charger network in Europe. According to Fisker, Allego owned 12,000 charging locations with 26,000 individual chargers at the time. Allego used the funds to help go public through a SPAC merger. Henrik Fisker said of the merger, “”Our investment…is motivated by strategic and tactical considerations, ensuring we have a stake in the future of EV charging networks while delivering tangible benefits to our customers.”
Fisker Notable Controversies
Karma Quality Problems – 2012
Henrik Fisker’s first visionary project, the Fisker Karma, suffered a myriad of speed bumps on the road to becoming a workable reality. Though actually produced and driven, the EV revealed many problems, including a strong likelihood of catching fire. Consumer Reports gave the vehicle a negative review on September 25, 2012. In their review, they noted clunky, sluggish driving; frequent breakdowns; and an uncomfortably loud engine. It also reported an unpleasantly cramped interior, poor driver visibility, and awkward controls. The review said, “In the final tally, the Karma scores a failing grade,” an opinion frequently shared by the few drivers who received Karmas.
Bankruptcy – November 25, 2013
Fisker expended around $1.4 billion of investment money during its failed first attempt to launch a viable EV, Reuters reports. The loss of government loan backing sped up its slide into insolvency. Destruction of existing Karma stock by Hurricane Sandy had little effect on the outcome, according to Henrik Fisker. The company finally went bankrupt and shuttered its operations in November 2013. Nobody knew at that point it was destined a few years later for a triumphant rebirth.