“We are going to see a huge disruption in mobility. We will see a large amount of new type of vehicles emerge, which will make 20 or 30, or 40 percent of our time more efficient”
Automotive design maven Henrik Fisker’s new venture might be less about the automobile than the technology that will power it.
Fisker’s eponymous company, which plans to introduce a sporty upper-end luxury car and other vehicles, is developing a new power technology known as a three-dimensional solid-state battery. The battery promises to be safer, lighter and run longer than the lithium ion battery technology that commonly powers the current generation of electric vehicles.
Fisker Inc. claims its batteries will have three-dimensional electrodes with 2.5 times the energy density of today’s lithium ion batteries — delivering a brow-raising 500-mile driving range and charging times as low as one minute.
“Our chief scientist is an expert on solid-state batteries,” Fisker told Automotive News. “He has done, shall we say, the 2.0 of solid-state batteries.”
Thin-film batteries, which have a limited surface area, have issues: The batteries can’t generate enough power for a car, they can’t handle extremely cold temperatures and they can be expensive.
Fisker’s technology uses three-dimensional solid-state electrodes that have 25 times more surface area than flat thin-film solid-state electrodes and high electronic and ionic conductivities, according to Green Car Congress. That enables fast charging and cold-temperature operation.
“We see a fairly clear path to solving those issues with our technology,” Fisker said.
But that path is far from guaranteed.
Part of Fisker’s vision for disrupting mobility is its autonomous shuttle named the Orbit.
“There’s still a lot of hurdles to jump over — there’s a lot of testing to be done, a lot of different chemistries that needs to be tuned,” Fisker said. “We are targeting to start doing on-road tests with the battery next year.”
Development of the battery technology could dictate the launch of Fisker’s flagship EMotion, a luxury electric vehicle that boasts a more than 400-mile range and can sprint from 0 to 60 mph in under 3 seconds.
The EMotion launch is planned for 2020, but Fisker said that deadline could get pushed.
“I would like to launch the EMotion with solid-state battery,” the Danish-born entrepreneur said. “If that means we have to delay the launch for some months, I would rather do that [and] go straight to solid-state battery technology because I think that’s such a big innovation.”
The EMotion has the crouch of a sports car, with the accoutrements of a luxury sedan — automatic butterfly doors and a carbon fiber console with a curved screen. Made of aluminum and carbon fiber composite, the vehicle will have a sticker price to match: It starts at $130,000 and tops out at $190,000, not including shipping.
“The world doesn’t need another boring car,” Fisker said. “We are going to be pushing the boundaries much more extremely and taking advantage of the electric powertrain layout.”
Fisker has had much success as a designer. His fingerprints are on a fleet of automotive icons, including the BMW Z8, Aston Martin V8 Vantage and Aston Martin DB9.
Fisker sees opportunities and challenges in designing electric vehicles.
“You don’t have the typical hard points that you have with a gasoline car, where you have a large engine block in the front,” he said. “The challenge is to take that opportunity and dare to do something different that may be unusual to the consumer.”
Fisker is looking beyond the age of human driving. The company is developing a fully autonomous shuttle, the Orbit, which would silently move people across a corporate campus or between airport terminals. The Orbit, which could be demonstrated in the next several months, could help address the industry’s “last mile” transportation question: how to ferry people from mass-transit terminals to their final destinations.
“We are going to see a huge disruption in mobility,” Fisker said. “We will see a large amount of new type of vehicles emerge, which will make 20 or 30, or 40 percent of our time more efficient.”
The business end
Fisker’s ambitions are likely to run into competitive and operational roadblocks.
Launching a new auto company already once proved to be a challenge for Fisker. His prior company, Fisker Automotive, produced the Karma, a luxury plug-in hybrid vehicle. Production of the Karma was suspended in November 2012 due to the bankruptcy of its battery supplier, A123 Systems. In February 2014, Chinese auto parts conglomerate Wanxiang Group acquired certain assets of Fisker Automotive in a bankruptcy auction.
Fisker’s timing with his second effort is interesting. Nearly every major automaker has announced ambitious plans to electrify their fleets. But the only major EV-only automaker, Tesla Inc., is still working to prove it can build cars profitably.
If Fisker is nervous, he isn’t showing it.
Fisker plans a 2020 launch for the EMotion, but he’s willing to postpone to put solid-state batteries in it.
“Our battery technology, ultimately, will be a big differentiator,” the executive said. “We are targeting to get the longest range in our segment.”
Fisker also is betting on his design prowess to move sheet metal: “As we’ve shown with the EMotion, we have created quite a lot of interior space in a sporty-looking four-door sedan.”
And then there’s this tease: “We have a couple of other exciting things [in product and technology] up the sleeve where we think we can really separate ourselves from our competitors.”
As Tesla is realizing, bleeding-edge technology and sexy design can only take an automaker so far. Survival lies in nailing the manufacturing.
Fisker didn’t offer details about his production strategy, noting the company is eying “a handful” of plants in the U.S. for vehicle manufacturing.
“We are going to do our own [manufacturing], but we are looking at some unique partnerships,” he said opaquely.
Fisker was equally vague about the company’s financial backers. “We are a private company and we don’t really want to go out in public with our financial backers, but we have a lot of very wealthy individuals,” he said.
In the end, Fisker is clear where he wants to go, even if he hasn’t quite mapped out how to get there: “Our goal is to be a full-scale automaker with a range of electric vehicles that’s going to stand out and have a lot of unique elements — from design to technology,” he said.