The world's press raised a cynical eyebrow when Fisker Automotive's Karma concept was revealed at the Detroit Auto Show in 2008.
It wasn't that the car lacked innovation - in fact, just the opposite - or that it wasn't a beautiful design - it's penned by Henrik Fisker, the same man that authored the Aston Martin Vantage and BMW Z8 sports cars.
No, it was met with cynicism because few people believed it was possible to produce a luxurious and technologically advanced hybrid electric sports car with supermodel good-looks and sports car performance for the sub-US$100,000 (Dh367,000) sticker price that the company had set as its targevt.Worse, Fisker and business partner Bernhard Koehler had launched Fisker Automotive out of the ashes of Fisker Coachbuild, a company that built custom Fisker Tramanto and Latigo models from the underpinnings of Mercedes-Benz SL and BMW 6 Series cars. It didn't look good.
Add this to the fact that, in recent decades, no one - and certainly not a car designer - has successfully started their own volume production car company building their own cars under a new automotive brand that carries their family name.
But all of that matters not right now. Because, three years after the concept, I'm here in Milan, behind the wheel of one of the first production models - number three, I believe.
That this car is third off the production line - and not a prototype - is significant because it demonstrates that the cars are being sold. Fisker Automotive says 3,000 orders have been taken already and that its target is to build 300 cars per week by year-end.
Against great odds, Fisker Automotive has succeeded in building one of the most intriguing and groundbreaking cars of recent times. Launching a car company from scratch is even more difficult in that it is expensive; fantastically expensive. But since the demise of Fisker Coachbuild, Fisker and Koehler managed to raise more than US$1 billion in investment for Fisker Automotive, half from the US government and the rest from investors that include the Qatar Investment Authority. The Karma is now in production at Valmet Automotive in Finland; the same facility that builds Porsche's Boxster and Cayman models.
The world's most bankable movie star and eco-activist, Leonardo DiCaprio, has one. He bought the first production Fisker Karma plug-in hybrid sports car ever built. What's more, he paid his own, hard-earned money for it; DiCaprio's car is no celebrity freebie.
Fisker calls the Karma "the world's first luxury plug-in hybrid". It is certainly that. Eyebrows are still being raised. Particularly in Munich and Stuttgart.
"The Karma looks like a four-door supercar," explains Fisker, the chief executive of Fisker Automotive. "But when you think about how a lot of these types of car are used today - cars like the Porsche Panamera or the Mercedes CLS - they're used as a daily commuter by many people. That's the group of people we are targeting with this car.
"A lot of people today are wondering whether they really need a powerful V8 engine, when they are sitting in traffic," says Fisker. "We've found that we're using the gasoline engine even less than we thought we would in this car.
"We believe that 95 per cent of the time the car will be driven in electric mode only and the gasoline engine will only be used as an emergency range extender."
The car certainly looks the part. With its long bonnet, short rear deck, unusually wide stance and low roofline, as well as athletic shoulders and pronounced wheel arches, the overall effect is a car that is long, lithe, low, muscular, yet very elegant. These are ideal traits for a sports car and Fisker has worked hard to disguise the car's unusually long length, which - at almost five metres - is dictated by the lithium-ion battery pack spine that runs the length of the car.Then there are those massive 22-inch Fisker Circuit Blade alloy wheels upon which the car sits. No car has ever gone into production with 22-inch wheels. They are even larger than the wheels on the original Karma concept car. Another first then.
From / The National