Fisker’s Rise, Fall, and Rise?

Nancy Friedrich, Technical Editor

Once hailed as a game-changing EV automaker, the carmaker is reborn under its original founder and making remarkable claims around solid-state battery technology.

It’s been quite a while since Tesla wasn’t the biggest name in electric vehicles (EVs). But if you think back over the last decade or so, you may certainly recall the Fisker Automotive debacle. This EV firm, launched by Henrik Fisker and Bernard Koehler, created the Karma EV (now the Karma Revero, as what was left of Fisker became Chinese-owned luxury carmaker Karma Automotive). In doing so, it massively hemorrhaged money on things like its website, laid off much of its staff, suffered employee lawsuits, and defaulted on and lost much of a U.S. Department of Energy loan of almost $530 million. Although Fisker Automotive succeeded in only building some 2,000-odd vehicles, they were largely heralded to be beautiful and exceptionally designed. In fact, Tesla attempted to sue Fisker, saying the company had copied some of its designs. Tesla lost, but Fisker disappeared anyway—until now. The car brand has been reborn as Fisker Inc. and, with the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) approaching in January, is again making headlines.

The key to Fisker’s current claim on the spotlight is its solid-state battery innovation. The firm just patented lithium-ion batteries that it expects to mass-produce in the next five to six years. According to an article by engadget, “Fisker claims the batteries it’s developing have an energy density 2.5 times that of current batteries, and they should be capable of providing a 500-mile driving range. The company also says the batteries could be recharged in as little as a minute.”

Rapid charging is, of course, the Holy Grail for EVs; people don’t want to be forced to hang around at rest stops for long periods to charge their vehicles. Longer charging times translate to lines, the need for more charging stations, space issues in crowded cities, and more. With fast charging, fewer charging stations can efficiently keep people on the road. In addition, solid-state technology offers the safety benefits of less risk of fire or explosions.

As this patent announcement made headlines today, however, the internet was abuzz with a mix of awed and incredulous responses to its claims. For comparison’s sake, the Tesla Supercharger takes an estimated 30 minutes to recharge. Tesla’s longest-range model, the S 100D, provides roughly 335 miles per charge. The EV industry is hoping for a solid-state leap, but questions remain about whether Fisker can really deliver on these patent claims in the timeline it suggests. The battery technology is scheduled to be “on display” at CES, although it’s unclear if or how Fisker will actually be demonstrating its capabilities.

It’s worth noting that the original embattled Fisker Automotive car brand suffered recalls and battery issues. It provided free replacements of the main high-voltage electric-drive battery on all 2012 Karmas after its supplier discovered a battery-cell flaw that could negatively affect performance and durability. A recall also went into effect later in 2012, according to Consumer Reports, due to “improper placement of coolant hose clamps in the electric cars’ battery compartments.” Because coolant could leak from the hose, it could cause a short circuit and fire with the Karma’s main rechargeable batteries. These issues may indeed have inspired Fisker to create and design its own solid-state battery technology, enabling it to more aggressively control its performance, safety, dependability, and more.”

Over the summer, there were reports that the first Fisker Inc. vehicle—dubbed the EMotion—would herald a new graphene battery breakthrough. The timeline clearly didn’t pan out the way the company hoped, but the website touts a 400-plus-mile range and 9-minute charging to 125 miles with lithium-ion. The price starts at $129,900 for this luxury car, which won’t be available until 2019. If the firm can turn a profit and make its battery claims into viable solutions, however, it will propel the EV and potentially many other industries ahead in a revolutionary rather than evolutionary leap.

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Image courtesy of Noya Fields, Creative Commons