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Emotion: Fisker debuts self driving Tesla competitor

Maria Sergeeva
January 16, 2018

Famed Danish auto designer, Henri Fisker has revealed the first luxury electric car to be built by Fisker Inc. Dubbed EMotion, it is positioned as a competitor to Tesla with a 300 mile range and 775hp of output.

Introduced during CES, the sedan is set to feature level 4 autonomous driving, depending on State regulation, and a top speed of 260 km/h. Fisker is now on track to deliver the first production line Emotion in 2020.

Prior to branching out on his own as a luxury, electric car manufacturer, Fisker had made his name in the automotive world by designing worldwide successes such as the BMW Z8 or the Aston Martin DB9. Backed by venture capitalists, he started his company in 2007 in Irvine, California.

A year later, Fisker unveiled his first prototype car, Karma, which was aimed to bring luxury and style to the world of electric vehicles. The car was powered by an electric engine until it went flat, at which point a gas engine turned on as a generator to prevent riders from being stranded.

Pledging to start production in 18 months, Fisker made international headlines at a time when Elon Musk's Tesla was still struggling. Amongst its celebrity clients were Al Gore, DiCaprio, Bieber and Usher.

Fisker Karma

"My idea was really to design something that came straight from the heart." subsequently said Fisker. His approach to outsource everything to lower headcount, however, created a car plagued with engineering issues. As production started, the Karma's price kept rising from an initial $80,000 to six figures by the time it was being built.

The US Department of Energy, which had promised him $528.7 million in funding in 2008, cut its losses at barely $200 million in 2011. This led to Fisker selling cars too quickly, before fixing production difficulties. Eventually, Fisker Automotive went bankrupt in 2013 and its assets were acquired by Chinese auto parts behemoth, Wanxiang Group.

Whilst Wanxiang bankrolls a revival of the Karma without Fisker, the Danish designer set out to relaunch his ambitions for a luxury sedan with the Emotion, introduced at the Consumer Electronics Show 2018.

Fisker Inc promises to build its EMotion with 775 horse power, a near 500km range at a base price of $129,000. Depending on selected options, the final price could, however, go up to $190,000 placing it in a comparable range with the Tesla Model X, which tops at a price of $140,000 with all options.

Promising level 4 autonomous driving, ie the ability to take over most but not all driving situations, the EMotion will be fitted with five LIDAR sensors built by Quanergy coupled with software developed by a partner that is yet to be named. Based on the prototype that was presented, these sensors are set to blend into the design of the car.

Sitting up to four passengers, the EMotion's design is reminiscent of some of Fisker's finest models. Meant as a luxurious vehicle, the EMotion will feature a digital dashboard and iPad-like infotainement system coupled with a central dashboard display.

Just open the doors, and you’re treated to ultra-soft leather, four-individual, fully electric and adjustable “first-class” seats, three driver-orientated screens, and much more including the option of a monster 27in curved rear screen and a five-seat configuration. The latter transforms the rear individual seats into a bench-like layout.

Fisker's EMotion is set not to only aim for a high-end interior design, but also turn heads with its exterior lines. In a butterfly-like layout, the luxury sedan will provide ample headroom for its passengers to fluctuate in and out of the car in perfect style. 

"It's a new take on the future of a luxury sedan." Fisker said during the car's launch at CES. "Features such as the extended driving range will make even people sitting on the fence about electric cars look at it."

Two years away from production line deliveries, the EMotion is mostly reliant on traditional lithium-ion batteries built by LG Chem. According to Fisker, future models will, however, be built with Flexible Solid State battery tech that he claims has 2.5 times the energy density of current batteries.

This new technology pioneered by Fisker Inc would also be non-flammable, have the ability to charge a car in minutes and cost a mere $65 per kWh. "Now you have a power source that's better than gasoline." The automotive startup plans to set up a small pilot line for the production of these batteries as early as this year but will partner with a consumer electronics firm to get to mass production.

"We could potentially partner up with another automaker and deliver it to them as well, if they're not a direct competitor" added Fisker. Although the EMotion is positioned as a low-volume model, Fisker says his company will "have the capability to sell hundreds of thousands of cars per year globally.

This bold claim, reminiscent of an early Elon Musk and Tesla, comes from Fisker's strategy to release an autonomous shuttle codenamed the Orbit as well as a cheaper electric vehicle on which Fisker is looking to partner with another manufacturer to produce. "We haven't announced any of our bigger partners yet, we'll probably announce that later in the year."

The Orbit

"2019 is like barely starting production, just some pre-production cars." Fisker detailed on his manufacturing plans. Deliveries are, however, set to ramp up in 2020 with 'full production' achieved by 2021. No precise numbers were released as to what these targets represent.

Despite these plans, Fisker assures the business community that its capital needs are taken care of in the short-term at least, thanks to funding from Hakim Unique Group, a Chinese investment firm specialising in entertainment, finance and tech.

A point of focus in the design of the EMotion was her extensive digital platform. Like many did at CES, Fisker argued that the rise of autonomous driving would fuel a growing demand for in-car entertainment that he wanted to tackle straight away. 

"When you start having autonomous vehicles in certain situations, I think the user interface and what you can do on these screens is very important." The designer also hinted that the car's interface would automatically tune itself based on how the driver uses it.

Fisker's efforts to develop a self-driving, electric luxury sedan come as automotive giants around the world are taking notice of the field and working on their own self driving technology. In October 2017, Ford started leading a consortium to develop driverless cars in London together with Addison Lee, a local Uber competitor.

"Today we will do 30,000 trips in London and all our data and information can be used to simulate demand and supply availability." commented Addison Lee CEO, Andy Boland. Other Ford partners in developing this technology include Lyft in the US, the fames Uber alternative.

Despite Fisker's ultimate failure with the Karma, over 2,700 units of the car were produced and assembled in Finland. Despite Tesla's current $57.8 billion market cap, it wasn't as clear that the manufacturer, a competitor of Fisker, would rise so quickly and that Fisker Automotive would not.

Tesla Model X

Despite becoming one of the world's most valuable car manufacturers, Elon Musk's Tesla has passed global sales of 250,000 cars only in September 2017 after being founded by the Paypal co-founder in 2003, ie 14 years ago. In comparison, BMW sold 100,000 electric cars in 2017 alone.

Tesla Model 3

Musk, however, remains no less ambitious about the successes ahead for Tesla. Earlier this week, he hinted that Model 3 owners would soon be able to control most of the functionalities of their car by voice. "You will be able to do pretty much anything via voice command" Musk said on Twitter. "Software team is focused on core Model 3 functionality right now, but that will be done soon, then we will add a lot more features."