The 2012 Fisker Karma poses a puzzle for plug-in proponents. On the one hand, it's the first luxury sport sedan that plugs in to recharge a lithium-ion battery pack that gives it 30 or more miles of all-electric range. As such, it extends electric cars into a new segment of the market: those wealthy individuals who want a sexy, striking, sporty sedan that also comes with green credentials.
Those buyers may be more numerous in Europe than in North America. It's widely accepted that over the next decade, many European cities will limit access to their central cores to zero-emission vehicles. So captains of industry who want to drive into central London may have to have a vehicle that can switch to battery power to get them in and out of the restricted zone. No U.S. city is expected to impose such limits, and so the Karma must appeal to early adopters and technically savvy engineering types who are electric-drive fans.
But, on the other hand, the 2012 Karma is the least efficient plug-in vehicle among almost a dozen that will be offered this year for sale or lease. The EPA rates its electric range at 32 miles, and its fuel efficiency in range-extending mode--with the gasoline generator on--at a dismal 20 miles per gallon. That's about the same the gas mileage delivered by the hybrid version of the Cadillac Escalade full-size sport-utility vehicle! At that level of consumption, it also means that the 9-gallon fuel tank provides only 180 miles of additional range on top of the 32 miles from the battery pack.
The combined MPGe number, based on an EPA-standard blend of gasoline and electric duty, is 52 MPGe. That's lower than the Volt (94 MPGe), the Prius Plug-In (95 MPGe), and any battery electric vehicle on the market.
Fisker says the Karma uses 18 of the 20.1 kWh in its lithium-ion battery pack, meaning it gets 1.8 miles per kWh. The 2012 Chevrolet Volt, the only other range-extended electric vehicle on the market, is rated at 37 miles of range using 10.4 kWh of its 16-kWh pack--3.5 miles per kWh, or exactly double the Karma's efficiency.
So the Karma poses a puzzle for our green rating. In the end, its ability to run on grid electricity outweighs its low gasoline efficiency, at least this early in the life of plug-in vehicles. We'll leave it to Fisker to tell us how buyers actually end up using their Karmas--for long drives on gasoline, or short journeys with regular recharging in between--and hope that the company can improve the efficiency of future models, including the less-expensive mid-size "Project Nina" line of vehicles it says it is developing.