In my December 12, 2011 blog entry entitled The “Bad Karma” Car,  I discussed the risks associated with this high performance Pluggable Hybrid Electric Vehicle (PHEV) developed by Fisker Automotive. On February 7, 2012 the Department of Energy (DOE) took the first step to possibly “pulling the plug” on the company. The DOE had committed to a $529 million loan to Fisker which included specific production targets. Engineering of the Karma took $169 million of the government loan. The remainder of the DOE money was contingent upon Fisker producing a certain number of Karmas by an agreed-upon deadline, which has been missed. Much of the DOE financial package was to support the design and eventual production of a second car, the Fisker Nina, a smaller PHEV, which was to be built at a former General Motors plant in Delaware. The company originally planned to start full production of the Nina in late 2012.
Writer Katie Fehrenbacher recently summarized the history of the Karma. Fisker Automotive was founded in 2007 and planned to have its first Karma production models by late 2009. It hoped to be manufacturing 1,200 cars per month by June 2010. The original goal was to sell 15,000 Karma’s in 2011. The 2009 Conditional Commitment letter between the DOE and Fisker called for 11,000 Karmas to be sold by September 2011. The Conditional Commitment letter also included a milestone of $25 million in gross earnings by the end of 2011. By the end of 2011, Fisker had only shipped 225 Karmas to its dealers.
In the first months of 2012, Fisker had to recall the shipped cars to correct a battery defect. Fisker is supposedly building 20-25 Karmas a day at its plant in Finland, or about 5,000 per year. The number of orders is uncertain. Project Nina has been suspended until further financing is obtained.
Karma sales may have been affected by the EPA publication of the window sticker for the Karma in October, 2011. The EPA rated the Karma at 52 MPGe (Miles per Gallon equivalent), a rating that, as I have pointed out numerous times, ignores the energy used to provide the electricity.   The actual rating should be around 19 MPGe, calculated by multiplying the 52 MPGe by a correction factor of 0.36 to account for upstream energy to create and transmit electricity. (The derivation of this number is explained in the white papers on this website.) This more accurate MPGe roughly matches the Karma’s 20 MPG for the gasoline engine. The EPA has provided a window sticker for the Karma, but has not yet listed the car on the section of its fueleconomy.gov website which shows tailpipe and upstream CO2 emissions for PHEVs. When and if that happens, the 5,300 pound Karma may be history as it will appear to be a gas (and electricity) guzzler.
Meanwhile the best known PHEV, the Chevy Volt, had sales of 7,671 Volts in 2011.  According to an article in the Wall Street Journal (WSJ), January 2012 sales totaled 603 Volts. The WSJ article points out that the similarly sized Chevy Cruze sold 15,059 cars in the same month. The author says that although the Cruze and Volt were never intended to be rivals, this may now be the case. The Cruze Eco gets 33 MPG combined city/highway while the Volt gasoline engine gets 37 MPG combined city/highway. The quoted 94 MPGe for electric mode when corrected as done above for the Karma would be 34 MPGe. Averaging the gasoline and electric mode for the Volt gives roughly 36 MPG, compared to the Cruz Eco’s 33 MPG.
n January, 2012 the Toyota Synergy Drive products (Prius, Camry and Lexus CT 200h) had sales of 14,696 cars. The 2012 Prius, Camry and Lexus CT 200h MPG ratings (combined city/highway) are 50 MPG, 41 MPG, and 42 MPG respectively. The Volt 36 MPG rating is less than these hybrid cars and only a little better than the conventional cars like the Cruz but has a higher price than all the others (over $40,000).
In a February 8, 2012 Wall Street Journal article, Holman Jenkins criticizes the government support for a green energy policy.  He references a comment by President Obama where the president committed to one million 150 MPG plug-in hybrids to be on the road by 2015. A Republican GOP website includes an article referencing Obama’s 1 million plug-in hybrids – FAILED PROMISE: Obama’s Million Electric Cars “Overly Optimistic”. The president will likely come under increasing attack as the election draws near for his large investment in such a questionable technology with such dubious (150 MPG) fuel economy claims. At some point the questionable mathematics the EPA used that produced PHEV MPGe ratings could become a campaign issue.
GM’s previous electric car, the EV1 of the late 1990s, did not succeed principally because of competition from the early Toyota and Honda hybrids. Former GM president Rick Wagoner once expressed his regret on having failed to put the right resources into hybrids.  In 2004, Volt program manager and GM Executive Bob Lutz said hybrid cars make no sense. One historical quote that showed both the naiveté and pride of GM said “And in 2010 GM is due to launch its revolutionary Chevrolet Volt, an electric car with a ‘range extending’ internal-combustion engine that promises to make the Toyota Prius look like yesterday’s technology.”  In 2009 GM ran a short-lived public relations program that claimed a rating of 230 MPGe for the Volt!
The PHEV concept is now under scrutiny. It combined the drive train of an electric car and a gasoline car without developing the economic and engineering rationale for such a combination. The PHEV was not so much a logical extension of the Prius hybrid architecture as currently marketed but the addition of a gasoline fueled electricity generator to an electric car. It was based on an experimental version of the GM EV1 which incorporated a gas turbine Auxiliary Power Unit (APU).
Figure 1: MPG Ratings for Prius+
The Volt was a response by GM to the success of the Prius. The company may also have been influence by claims of very high MPG performance from early modified versions of the Prius. The original misrepresentation of Prius MPG goes back to the early work of the California Cars Initiative (CalCars) and the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI).  Figure 1 illustrates the original MPG claims by CalCars. 
The Prius+ was a modification to a 42 MPG Prius which included the addition of more batteries. The Volt and Karma MPGe numbers, once power plant energy is taken into consideration, are roughly equal to their gasoline MPG numbers. Applying the same logic would reduce the Prius+ claim of “100+ MPG” to something much closer to 40 MPG.
The car shown in Figure 1 was flown to Washington DC in May 2006 to lobby for the Plug-In Hybrid Electric Vehicle Act of 2006.  It was demonstrated to key members of Congress where, without evidence or analysis, the 100 MPG+ was extolled. Few people asked for the details as to how the number was derived. This single trip and other lobbying by interested parties may well have helped to pass the bills to fund PHEVs. Six years later, the MPGe analysis is now being redone, exposing the hype of the Prius+ advocates.
After six years and electrification subsidies approaching six billion dollars, the PHEV and the Battery Electric Vehicle (BEV) are not being purchased in large numbers. Part of the reason may be consumer wariness of the inflated MPGe numbers. There are many people who understand the difference between tailpipe only emissions and upstream emissions. It is surprising that the media has not discovered the inconsistency. But political pressure during the 2012 election year may lead to its revelation. The EPA and DOE are certainly debating the way information is presented on the window sticker and could see significant political fallout if they do not soon redesign the MPGe part of the 2013 window sticker. In the meantime, standard Toyota hybrid products will continue to dominate the high MPG market. Since 1999, the year of the first delivery of the Prius, Toyota has sold 70% of all the hybrids ever made. Half of all hybrid sales have been a single model – the Prius.
 The “Bad Karma” Car by Pat Murphy, December 12th, 2011http://www.pluginscam.org/2011/12/the-%E2%80%9Cbad%E2%80%9D-karma-car/
 Fisker’s Federal Loans Frozen, Layoffs Follow by Jeff Cobb, hybridcars.com, February 7, 2012 http://www.hybridcars.com/news/fiskers-federal-loans-frozen-layoffs-follow-36249.html
 This is how far off Fisker is from its original numbers by Katie Fehrenbacher, Gigaom, Feb. 7, 2012, http://gigaom.com/cleantech/this-is-how-far-off-fisker-is-from-its-original-numbers/
 The Fisker Karma’s 20 M.P.G. Sticker: A Scarlet Letter? By Jim Motavalli, October 21, 2011, New York Times http://wheels.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/10/21/the-fisker-karmas-20-m-p-g-conundrum/
 The Plug-In Scam: GM and EPA Misrepresentation of the PH by Pat Murphy, Research Director, Community Solutions, January 2012 http://www.pluginscam.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/11/The-Plug-In-Scam-GM-and-EPA-Misrepresentation-of-the-PHEV-January-2012.pdf
 Go to Fueleconomy.gov, Select New Window Sticker and Beyond Tailpipe Emissions to see Leaf and Volt emissions.
 HybridCars.Com, December 2011 Hybrid Car Sales Numbers http://www.hybridcars.com/news/december-2011-dashboard-sales-still-climbing-35093.html
 Is Chevy’s Cruze Dulling the Spark of the Volt? by Joseph B. White, WSJ, February 9, 2012
 Revisiting the Auto Bailout with Clint by Holman W. Jenkins Jr, Wall Street Journal, February 8, 2012.
 Obama: 1 million plug-in hybrid vehicles by 2015 by Jeremy Korzeniewski August 4, 2008 http://green.autoblog.com/2008/08/04/obama-1-million-plug-in-hybrid-vehicles-by-2015/
 Best of Rick Wagoner: Farewell to the Volt/Hummer Chief March 31, 2009, Invest in Clean Tech http://www.investincleantech.net/clean-tech-news/?p=98
 GM: Hybrid cars make no sense: GM executive Lutz argues critically acclaimed hybrid compacts like Toyota Prius are bad business, by Chris Isidore, January 6, 2004: http://money.cnn.com/2004/01/06/pf/autos/detroit_gm_hybrids/
 Driving the Solution-The Plug In Hybrid Vehicle by Lucy Sanna, EPRI Journal, Fall 2005. http://www.calcars.org/epri-driving-solution-1012885_PHEV.pdf
 Congressional Witnesses Unanimously Support Proposed Plug-in Hybrid Legislation, May 17 2006 http://www.greencarcongress.com/2006/05/congressional_w.html
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