Famed auto designer Henrik Fisker’s newest EV firm just announced the debut of a “dramatically sculpted” electric SUV that’s priced below $40,000 and set to launch in the second half of 2021.

The four-wheel-drive car has “a target range of close to 300 miles,” courtesy of an “enhanced” 80-kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery and is the first of an upcoming roster of all-electric vehicles, according to a release.

As EVs become more affordable, the battle for the car buyer’s hard-earned dollar is bound to get fierce. 

And with Tesla’s Elon Musk turning the hype dial up to 11, it’s almost forgivable that a competitor would up the volume in order to be heard in this rapidly crowding marketplace. 

But Henrik Fisker, designer of cars like the Aston Martin DB9, isn’t just any competitor. He's already been around the block. His first EV hype cycle (and stunning failure) was well documented by GTM.

Founded in 2007, Fisker raised nearly $1.2 billion in venture capital from investors such as Kleiner Perkins, but struggled with production delays, DOE loan issues, the A123 bankruptcy, bad reviews and recalls of its $100,000-plus plug-in.

Jalopnik wrote that the Fisker Karma has "an interior the size of a Geo Metro, build quality that has a real Pyongyang sort of charm, and, of course, a crippling lack of money. But holy crap, is that a pretty car."

Elon Musk, interviewed in Automobile magazine back when the Karma model was considered a Tesla competitor, said, ”The fundamental problem with Henrik Fisker is he is a designer or stylist. [...H]e thinks the reason we don't have electric cars is for lack of styling. This is not the reason. It's fundamentally a technology problem. […] But just making something look like an electric car does not make it an electric car.”  

(Side note: One evening in 2012, I just wanted dinner but ended up watching and reporting on a Fisker burning in a local parking lot).

Fisker was replaced as CEO in 2012 and the company’s post-bankruptcy IP and assets were sold off. The Karma brand is now owned by a Chinese auto company.  

But Fisker is back 

But Henrik Fisker is back — and this time with claims that his new company’s all-electric luxury vehicle is “shattering old notions of what an SUV can be.” (There’s that hype I mentioned.)

Fisker originally wanted to introduce its premium sedan, powered with the firm’s own solid-state batteries, before the affordable SUV — but the sedan will have to wait until the advanced battery technology is ready for deployment. 

For now, the SUV will come with “enhanced” lithium-ion batteries. 

Fisker will sell direct to consumers and “will begin accepting early deposits closer to the start of production.” Fisker has not determined where the car will be manufactured. And as Tesla has learned, manufacturing is the hard part.

What is it about batteries? 

Fisker has made extravagant claims about its solid-state batteries, such as that its battery will come with “2.5 times the energy density of lithium-ion” and that it is “shattering conventional thought on EV range and charge times.”

Fisker has also claimed that its batteries are “targeted to deliver more than 500 miles of range with a single, quick charge.” 

More hype: “We’ve also made the seemingly impossible, possible with our scientists spearheading the breakthrough in Flexible Solid-State battery technology.”

The Verge reported that the CEO claimed its “battery packs will take a fifth of the time to manufacture compared to lithium-ion packs used in all other EVs. He claims they will be twice as durable as current packs with the ability to live through twice as many charge cycles.”

Solid-state batteries do have the potential for better energy density and safety than today’s lithium-ion batteries — if they ever reach enter mass production.

Despite the challenges of battery science and manufacturing, venture capital and private equity firms invested more than $1.3 billion in energy storage technologies in 2018, according to Wood Mackenzie. Other solid-state battery aspirants include:

  • Solid Power, funded by investors such as Hyundai and Samsung, claims that its technology provides "substantially higher energy than conventional lithium-ion" while also reducing the system-level costs of safety precautions. 
  • QuantumScape’s investors include Kleiner Perkins, Prelude Ventures, Lightspeed, Capricorn and Khosla Ventures. Its CEO, Jagdeep Singh, is the successful founder of Lightera and Infinera. 
  • Sila Nanotechnologies is looking to commercialize a set of high-performance silicon anode materials that could replace the commonly used graphite in lithium-ion battery anodes. Investors include Sutter Hill Ventures, Bessemer, Samsung, In-Q-Tel, Next47 and Chinese battery builder Amperex. 
  • Ionic Materials' plastic-like polymer serves as an electrolyte, and can work with active battery materials like lithium, zinc and aluminum. 
  • Sion Power has been working on advanced batteries for decades and claims that its lithium-sulfur materials system has the highest theoretical gravimetric and volumetric energy densities of any battery system.
  • Prieto Battery is developing a three-dimensional lithium-ion structure to increase energy density and cycle life with funding from Stanley Ventures and Intel. 
  • Sakti3, acquired by vacuum builder Dyson, has been developing solid-state batteries, as was the Bosch-acquired Seeo with its polymer electrolyte. 

Just the beginning of the EV hype boom

This is just the beginning of the EV boom and the start of the EV manufacturing wave. It's going to come from Chinese companies like Nio and heavyweight BYD, American companies like Tesla, Proterra, GM and Ford, and the European and Japanese automotive incumbents. 

Along with the news and technological advances, there is inevitably going to come some hype. Even America's pony car is hinting something electric.