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CNET Conversations: Mission impossible: Making the green car cool

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CNET Conversations: Mission impossible: Making the green car cool

5:14 /

In one of the most tumultuous times in the auto business, Henrik Fisker is on a personal quest to make environmentally friendly vehicles sexy.

-If you wanted to be busy, real busy for the next decade or so of your life, you'd start a car company. It's about the most competitive, complicated, and regulated business you can enter. That's exactly what Henrik Fisker, personally obsessed with design in America. -We start out with a clean sheet of paper and saying we have to do it different, otherwise, we have not reasons to succeed. -Fisker has designed some of best looking cars you've ever seen -- the Aston Martin DB9, the BMW Z8, the initial design work on the Tesla Model S, but apparently he craved more room to breathe, so he started his own company, Fisker Automotive and their first car, the Karma, began showing up in driveways in late 2011. Why take full spectrum auto manufacturing? Do you really need to the headaches of investors, bankers, government regulation, government financing? Why take this on? -Well, I thought, why can't anybody make just a really cool environmental friendly car? Why do all have to look so dorkey? Why they have to be slow? So, when I came all these technology, I really felt the entire thing fits together with the environment, the powertrain, the design, everything being an American car company, etc. So, all this just fitted together. -Okay, that's the theory. This is the execution -- a 4-door coupe, rear wheel drive, 400 horsepower, 0 to 60 in 6 seconds, but it's electric. The big mission this car has to accomplish is not getting down the road, but getting people to think indulgently about a green car. -This is a car which is all your personal luxury car, your personal transportation and I think a lot of people, they realize they drive alone in this huge sedans or sports cars somehow in the future, we have to move as more environmental friendly cars. It's really about still being able to enjoy luxury, but do it in a responsible way in a way when society looks at you they go, you know, wow this is really cool. -The Karma is electric, but when the batteries are done, you aren't, it's what's known has the range extended. -I believe this the first car that is truly designed for how we really today. "We" meaning a lot of people and it charges overnight. You don't need any special charger and next morning when you wake you got about 40 to 50 miles. You can drive in pure electric. You can go on the freeway. You go to work. You come home. You plug in and entire week you wouldn't use a drop of gasoline. -Now, if you decide to jump in the car and going a thousand miles trip to wherever on vacation, then the gasoline engine, a small portion of gasoline then turn on, turns the generator and creates electricity while you drive. -Let's talk about some of the emphasis you're putting on design. -I believe that the emotional connections really come through the design and I think we have in the last of 20 or 30 years lock so that emotional connection. You don't begin here with the design. If you begin here, which many car companies they begin here -Yeah. You're building bricks and in the end designer is told just to make the outline and then you get an awkward-looking car and we try to incorporate, you know, really what I feel some fundamentals when look back and what was it made us fall in love with the car in the first place is beautiful sculpture. You see the nice sculptured hunches over the rear wheels. -Yup. -The front wheels, the long hood. -I don't think I've met anyone who didn't say wow when they saw Fisker's design. The man knows how to draw a car, but when you're not of 6 figures, car sales as much on what they say as what they do. So beyond the powertrain, there's recycled wooden side, paint with recycled crushed glass instead of metal flakes, and let's not forge the solar panel roof. -People have tried to come up with solar roofs before, but didn't ever look good, so actually decided let's design the most awesome solar roof in the world. -This entire panel is a solar collection. -Yeah, it's one big panel and it actually is a laminated glass just like you would have on a sun roof. We have to take these cells and bent them they break. So, the illusion that this curve into direction is done by 2 pieces of glass with a gel between and each of these solar cells actually float on that gel to make you-- -Of allowing this to happen. -Yeah. -Without damaging the cell. -Exactly. -The Karma has hit a few potholes dead on. There was an early recall, a couple of fires and consumer reports had one die on them, but Fisker remains focused farther out on the horizon. -The thing about it, how many times you get to take part of creating a new car company, not very often. So, everybody here I think is very inspired. They are very excited about changing an industry that most people quite practicing is impossible to change. -Okay, to my mind, here's what I'm watching after this discussion with Henrik Fisker. First of all, how does this car fare against not other electric or electrified cars, but traditionally fueled cars that are also luxurious and high performance? I think right now the competition isn't Tesla or others, it's still BMW and Mercedes and Maserati. Secondly, these kinds of car companies don't get made or broken on their first car. It's their second car where the judgement really happened. So, stay tuned.

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