The “Bad Karma” Car

December 12th, 2011 | No Comments »

In an October 20, 2011 Washington Post article, authors Carol Leonnig and Joe Stephens noted that Fisker Automotive had missed its manufacturing production goals for the Karma Pluggable Hybrid Electric Vehicle (PHEV), a luxury car with a list price near $100,000. [1] The company had earlier estimated it would produce 11,000 Karmas in 2011. Fisker designed and engineered the Karma in the U.S., but it is built in Finland by automotive supplier Valmet Automotive. Forty cars were recently shipped from Finland for distribution to dealers to provide demonstration vehicles. Founder Henrik Fisker now projects 12,000 – 15,000 orders in 2012.

The article points out that in 2009, the Department of Energy committed to a $529 million loan to Fisker which included specific production targets. $169 million of the government loan was used to support engineering work for the Karma that was done in the United States at Fisker’s headquarters in California. $359 million of the loan is to support design and production of the Fisker Nina, a smaller PHEV, which will be built at a former General Motors plant in Delaware. The company originally planned to start full production of the Nina in late 2012, but that date has slipped to 2013. Founder Henrik Fisker noted that the company has raised $600 million in private equity.

Fisker Automotive was co-founded in August, 2007 by Henrik Fisker and Bernhard Koehler along with Quantum Technologies, a provider of alternative and renewable energy technology solutions. Fisker’s first product, the Karma, was announced at the 2008 North American Auto Show in Detroit as a PHEV sports sedan with claims of 100 MPGe (miles per gallon equivalent) and a 50 mile electric driving range. Although original shipments were planned for 2009, the first car was actually delivered in July, 2011 to Fisker Board Chairman Ray Lane. The Karma is a PHEV similar to the Chevrolet Volt. It is a much larger car than the Volt, weighing 5,300 pounds[2], compared to the Volt’s 3,755 lbs. Its “range extending” gasoline engine is a 2.0 liter four cylinder engine purchased from GM.

The Washington Post authors noted that the Fisker Karma had not met its stated energy efficiency goals when tested by the EPA. Other journalists made similar reports. In October, 2011 the EPA gave the Karma a rating of 52 MPGe with a range of 32 miles all electric and a 20 mpg rating when utilizing the gasoline engine.[3] The numbers are significantly below the original 100 MPGe[4] and subsequent Fisker claims of 67 MPGe. Official sales can now begin with the official EPA certification and fuel mileage guidelines. The EPA window sticker for the Karma is shown in figure 1. [5]

 Figure 1: EPA Window Sticker for the Karma

The MPGe formulas used by the EPA do not take into account the fossil fuel energy used at a power plant to generate the electricity that eventually charges the battery of the Karma. The Karma label shows the car uses 65 kWh to go 100 miles or .65 kWh to go one mile. This is equivalent to 1.54 miles/kWh which is the inverse of.65 kWh/mile. An MPGe calculation using the EPA misleading ratio of 33.7 kWh in a gallon of gasoline (which ignore the energy consumed to generate electricity) gives the result of 52 MPGe (33.7 kWh/gallon * 1.54 miles/kWh). This is the same as the EPA’s MPGe rating which justifies this calculation methodology. For comparison, the Chevrolet Volt is rated at 93 MPGe (using 36 kWh to go 100 miles) with a range of 35 miles per charge and 37 MPG on gas only.[6] [7]  The Nissan Leaf is rated at 99 MPGe (using 34 kWh to go 100 miles) with 73 miles of all electric range.[8]  The Prius PHEV is estimated at 87 MPGe with a range of 14 miles and 49 MPG on gas only (EPA has not tested the Prius PHEV).[9]

There is a more accurate process of determining the actual MPG equivalent by taking into consideration the energy used in generating and transmitting electricity. Using the ratio of 12.3 kWh per gallon, which is the “site or effective” energy versus the “source or theoretical” energy, gives a 19 MPGe rating (12.3 kWh/gallon * 1.54 miles/kWh). This is quite close to its gasoline mileage of 20 mpg. For comparison the Leaf uses adjusted MPG for the Leaf is 36 MPGe and the adjusted MPG for the Volt is 34 MPGe.

Warren Meyer wrote a critique of the Karma MPGe in an article in Forbes,[10] entitled “Update: Fisker Karma Electric Car Gets Worse Mileage Than an SUV” calling the EPA rating of 52 MPGe a sham. He utilizes a similar process as I have done to obtain the  same 19 MPGe. A Fisker spokesperson responded saying [11],

“We would point out the word sham is very dangerous language to be using in this context. The Karma has been verified by the government agency that assesses all vehicles on sale in the US. More broadly the MPG of conventional gasoline powered cars does not take into account the oil drilling, transportation and multiple other costs associated with fuel production. This is a standard and fair comparable measurement for electric cars.”

Meyer was referring to the EPA process not to the car itself. I am not sure of his exact method, but I assume the same methodology is used. The 12.3 kWh/gallon I use takes into account the energy production costs of refining gasoline as well as the transportation costs from refinery to gasoline station. The 19 MPGe number is representative of actual consumption between a gasoline engine and an electric motor run by batteries charged by the power grid.

At some point, the EPA will have to provide an accurate MPGe for the Karma and other BEVs and PHEVs which includes all the energy costs of creating electricity as well as gasoline. I predict that when this is done, MPGe will be very close to the MPG of a PHEV when operating on its gasoline engine.  Considering their high price, the improving performance of HEVs and the disappointing performance of the luxury high performance battery cars, the loans from the DOE to Fisker may never be repaid.

[1] Reference:  Fisker, electric carmaker backed by $529 million U.S. loan, balks at Solyndra comparison, by Carol D. Leonnig and Joe Stephens, Published: October 21, 2011, Washington Post

[2] Fisker Karma’s 5,300-pound weight = 20 mpg by Eric Loveday, Oct 25, 2011

[3] Fisker Karma gets EPA certified: 52 mpge, 32-mile electric range, 20 mpg on gas  by Sebastian Blanco, Oct 19th 2011

[4] Television ad for Karma In commerical a chart appears saying 100 miles per gallon annual average.

[5] Fisker Karma Gets EPA Rating of 52 MPGe by Aaron Turpen, October 23, 2011

[6] Fisker Karma Gets 52 MPGe EPA Rating by Admin October 19, 2011

[7]  EPA Gives Chevrolet Volt a Rating Equivalent to 93 MPG by Admin, November 24, 2010

[8] Nissan LEAF: 99 MPG Equivalent by admin, November 22, 2010, Electric Car News

[9] Prius Plug-In Hybrid by Admin, September 15, 2011, Electric Car News,

[10] Update: Fisker Karma Electric Car Gets Worse Mileage Than an SUV, by Watten Meyer, October 20, 2011, Forbes,

[11] Fisker Karma Defends Itself From Critics Of Low Mileage Electric Car  by Kenneth Rapoza, October 22, 2011, Forbes,


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