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Fisker EMotion electric car builds on many lessons learned

Henrik Fisker has a troubled past with his previous company, Fisker Automotive. Can his new electric car redeem his reputation?

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Henrik Fisker enjoys a reputation as a successful automotive designer and a troubled history as a start-up entrepreneur. He can chalk up design wins, such as the gorgeous BMW Z8, while also bearing the burden of the failed company Fisker Automotive, which had positioned itself to be a Tesla competitor in the luxury electric vehicle segment.

He marks a return to the startup business, helming Fisker Inc. as CEO and showing off his latest car, the EMotion, at CES 2018.

Fisker showed off its EMotion car in conjunction with lidar maker Quanergy at CES 2018.

Wayne Cunningham/Roadshow

Fisker describes the EMotion as a low-volume electric sports car, and a result of lessons learned from his time at Fisker Automotive. The car itself boasts a dramatically curvy design, doors that open outward in a unique fashion and a huge 140-kilowatt-hour battery pack, which should let the EMotion cover 400 miles on a full charge.

Electric vehicles are creating huge disruption in the automotive sector, opening up opportunities for new companies to break in. However, as Fisker learned from his previous effort, it takes a lot of money to get started. Tesla serves as an obvious example, a company that still relies on investment to make ends meet, even with three highly sought-after models on the market.

With the EMotion, Fisker said the company is about two years away from sales, and looking at late 2019 for preproduction models. "The design of the car is fixed, but there is still a lot of development to do."

One of the biggest hurdles for Fisker's engineers has been developing the rear hinge for the car. The unique way the doors open, up and out, makes it a difficult design. Once perfected, however, it will make for an invitingly open portal to both front and rear seats, with better access than in a typical sports car.

"The most innovative thing about the car is the large size of the cabin. It has rear legroom comparable to a BMW 7-Series." The packaging of an electric drivetrain, with batteries integrated into the chassis and drive motors much smaller than a combustion engine, allows for a more spacious passenger compartment. 

At CES, Fisker showed the EMotion in conjunction with partner company Quanergy, which makes the five solid-state lidar sensors integrated with the car. Those sensors mean that Fisker also plans on self-driving capability for the EMotion.

"We won't decide on production until we actually have a car to build." Much of the cost of marketing a completely new car comes from setting up manufacturing and a sales network, so Fisker is taking a careful approach, putting current investment towardsdeveloping a production model, although he does say that he is considering manufacturing locations. As for sales, Fisker will use a direct model, similar to Tesla.

With a target price of $130,000, the EMotion won't be a mass-market car, and suggests that Fisker Inc. could go the way of Fisker Automotive. However, for this effort Fisker has a couple of aces up his sleeve. Most notably, Fisker Inc. will have an autonomous electric shuttle ready to market before the EMotion, which could create a stable revenue stream early on.

Now playing: Watch this: We talk to Henrik Fisker about the EMotion at CES
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For the future of transportation, Fisker thinks people will use what he describes as a menu of options, such as a shuttle for the daily commute and a sports car for a weekend getaway. He plans on supplying all these options through his new company, putting the Fisker stamp on each.

The shuttle, which should seat eight to 10 people, will embody similar Fisker aesthetics to the EMotion, creating a consistent experience for riders. However, the shuttle will drive prescribed routes so won't need the kind of handling and acceleration the EMotion will incorporate. And following the EMotion, Fisker plans a higher-volume car.

The shuttle shows that Fisker is thinking beyond the Tesla business model, which still mirrors that of traditional automakers, and focusing on transportation solutions for the future.