Things haven't gone well for Fisker Automotive. The Anaheim, Calif.-based company hasn't built one of its signature Karma hybrid-electric luxury cars in more than a year. The cars are notably buggy. And now Fisker's fate hangs on a government auction.
Things haven’t gone well for Fisker Automotive. The Anaheim, Calif.-based company hasn’t built one of its signature Karma hybrid-electric luxury cars in more than a year. The cars are notably buggy. And now Fisker’s fate hangs on a government auction.
Oddly enough, that hasn’t diminished the Karma’s appeal in the eyes of some car buyers.
Sean Abdali, a North Tustin, Calif., tennis pro, fell in love with the distinctive vehicle through a friend who paid $130,000 to buy the car last year. For him, the turmoil surrounding Fisker has only served to make the Karma more affordable. Over the summer, Abdali spent a week’s vacation figuring out how he could get one of the cars.
He connected with Sean Mirasoli, owner of Anaheim Pre-Owned Cars, who has brokered deals to buy more than 30 Karmas from Fisker. Most of the cars were returned by customers due to various complaints, fixed up and then used by executives as demonstration vehicles. At a sale of 11 cars at the company’s Anaheim headquarters on Sept. 1, Abdali snagged one for around $50,000.
Abdali described seeing a locked and all-but-abandoned headquarters occupied by a security guard and an office with a solitary man who had a strained look on his face and a big stack of papers in front of him.
“It was like it was going to Disneyland for adults,” he said. “Except it was a sad Disneyland. … It looked like the company just died.”
That fascination in the face of repeated setbacks speaks to the romantic aura that surrounded the Karma and the backers of Fisker from the beginning. Now Fisker’s only shot at a new life is an Oct. 11 government auction to recoup a portion of the $168 million the government couldn’t recover from the company, loaned to it by the Department of Energy.
Whoever wins that auction may decide the company’s future, and whether it resumes car manufacturing. That follows months of reports that various groups were interested in buying the company, including Honk Kong billionaire investor Richard Li, longtime Detroit auto executive Bob Lutz and Wanxiang, the Chinese company that bought Fisker’s bankrupt battery supplier.
Mirasoli said he still has six of the cars left from the Sept. 1 sale. His cars are listed at the low end — $49,000 to $51,000 — of more than 80 Karma listings on Autotrader.com that range up to $85,000. He said planned to pick up 11 more cars from the company— cars he said were used by some of the investors in the company and in Hollywood. The Karma had a supporting role as a status symbol in the Harrison Ford and Gary Oldman summer box office bomb “Paranoia.”
Mirasoli said he heard from a Fisker employee there were 80 cars being held in Finland, where the car was made, and 40 at a New Jersey port, but the company couldn’t sell them to him.
Abdali worked through five different banks to get a car loan. With only about 2,500 Karmas in existence, and the market for them in flux, the bankers seemed to have trouble assigning a value. His father, who had given Abdali and his wife a Toyota Prius to celebrate the birth of their son, offered to let them sell the Prius and cover the difference for the higher cost of the Karma. The Prius went back to the dealer on Sunday.
It also took some time to line up former Fisker employees in the area who could help with fixes. “I would not buy one of these cars without a Fisker technician,” Abdali said.
And they do need attention, said Travis Richardson, an Anaheim resident who worked for Fisker Automotive as a technician until he was laid off last August. Richardson also worked for Orange County’s only Fisker dealership, in Irvine, which closed earlier this year. “There’s almost no dealer network left,” he said.
At that point, Richardson launched Fixthekarma.com, a service business that is now thriving. Richardson, answering a call from the Orange County Register while working underneath a Karma in Chicago, said he has about 100 customers and charges $120 per hour for inspections.
“They are super popular right now, I’m guessing because of all this stuff with Tesla” bringing electric cars to mainstream attention, Richardson said. “Almost all these cars are used at this point.”
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It’s a tight fit, but Abdali can fit a baby seat in the back of his Karma and a stroller in the trunk. He’s driven the car about 300 miles, including trips to Malibu and Huntington Beach and back without an ounce of gas. That’s on top of the 16,000 miles that came with the car.
Abdali’s friends in the Karma community tell him it’s good to start with those miles, because it means Fisker likely worked out some notable Karma defects. For instance, it narrows the odds that his car battery is defective, a problem that helped bankrupt Fisker’s supplier last year.
On a recent morning, Abdali put his foot to the pedal of the Karma and accelerated out of his driveway on full electric power. The car bottomed out, scraping on the pavement. Abdali winced and discussed the possibility of redoing the driveway to keep that from happening again.
“Patience,” he said as he drove the hulking car around Tustin. “That’s the one thing that could have helped Fisker.”
©2013 The Orange County Register (Santa Ana, Calif.)
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