Henrik Fisker wants the company that carries his family name to offer a high-volume, “more affordable” full-electric model that will sold globally by 2021. The former BMW and Aston Martin designer, who had a bumpy ride when his previous company, Fisker Automotive, entered the EV sector in 2011 with the Karma, is bullish about the future of his new company, Fisker Inc. He recently spoke with Automotive News Europe Managing Editor Douglas A. Bolduc.
When will Fisker offer a car that is more attainable to the masses?
We plan to launch a high-volume, more affordable vehicle in 2021 at a starting price that will be close to $40,000 and 40,000 euros.
Will it be a global car?
Yes, it will be sold everywhere. But it will be produced in the U.S. We are currently looking at some existing manufacturing plants. There are quite a few available [General Motors announced in November it planned to end production by the end of 2019 at U.S. plants in the Ohio and Michigan].
Could you provide any further details?
We think we will be able to find a plant in the U.S. and make a decision on that fairly soon.
Why not build a new plant?
It’s better to buy an existing plant because it takes a lot of time to build a new plant. Also, you have something to start with so you can ramp up a little faster.
What does Fisker look like today?
We have a small team of fewer than 100 people, but we are currently hiring a new person every week. The idea, however, is to stay lean. For instance, in r&d I don’t see us surpassing 500 people in the next five years.
You have had some rough years that included seeing Fisker Automotive being sectioned off in a bankruptcy auction in 2014 and now being owned by China’s Wanxiang Group. Why are you giving this another try as Fisker Inc.?
I’m back because I believe the time is probably “more right” than ever [for electric vehicles]. We are seeing a clear trend that we are definitely moving to electric. Some of the big traditional car companies, specifically Volkswagen, have really committed to electrification. That’s an important sign because it means you are going to start seeing a bigger rollout with more vehicles and in different price segments. In addition, we are seeing the impact China will have on the global auto market.
How will the Chinese make a name for themselves?
They are not going to come with traditional cars where Europe and America feel they have the upper hand. They are going to come with electric cars that will have a big influence on which car companies are going to survive in Europe and the U.S. I don’t believe they all will. There are, I believe, more than 15 startups from China operating out of California, funded by China. Electrification is serious.
Why haven’t we seen a big move by buyers toward electric cars?
The difficulty is the transition period. Whether you are a startup aiming to become a well-oiled car company or a well-oiled car company changing from being a gasoline company to an electric company, that transition period is extremely difficult. The reason is that, as anyone who is in the car industry knows, this is probably the most complicated and most capital-intensive industry in the world. One of the big issues that comes with electrification is the initial lack of volume. Therefore, it is tough for anybody to make an affordable electric vehicle that is comparable in terms to what it can offer the customer for the same price as a fuel-powered car. It has worked OK in the [EV] luxury segment because people are willing to pay extra, but once you get in the affordable segments, it’s really difficult.
How will this change?
I foresee a transition period over the next seven years. It is going to be a collaborative effort within the car industry to get the volume on certain components earlier. If you try to do everything yourself, it could take you 10 years to get to the volume you need. That means some things could change dramatically.
One change is that in the traditional industry, carmakers all make their own engines. Whereas, we already see electric vehicles sharing the same battery cells. You are going to see manufacturers share electric motors as well as other electrical components such as inverters, connectors and more. Everything is going to be about getting volume up to get the price down.
How long will it take to eliminate range anxiety?
In the next two or three years, we are going to pass the point where you have to prove to the consumer that an electric car can be fast and it can do 250 to 300 miles [400 km to 480 km].
What is the challenge after that?
Then it’s going to be up to the individual car brands to figure out: What is special about our brand? The new car companies are obviously thinking about how to define their brands. The traditional car companies are going to have to reinvent themselves.
Look at BMW. They are all about the engines and how they sound and the smoothness and the revs. That will be gone. You will not hear a difference between one electric motor and the other. They are all quiet. So, what are the differentiators? Why will I buy a BMW electric car in the future? That is going to be one of the big challenges: rebranding and telling the customer what the brand is about.