Fisker ready for March production

Fisker Karma The Karma is the first electric luxury car with a petrol-powered range extender

Three years after it was conceived, Fisker Automotive's first car will go into production later this month.

The Fisker Karma, on display at this year's Geneva motor show, is an electric car that has been kitted out with a four-cylinder, petrol-powered, range-extender engine.

The Californian company initially hopes to sell 15,000 cars per year, chief executive Henrik Fisker told BBC News.

But over time, "we want to become a proper high-volume carmaker", he said.

"We'll eventually achieve sales in the hundreds of thousands," said Mr Fisker, who is a former Aston Martin and BMW designer.

'Responsible luxury'

Fisker Automotive will be the second company in the world to launch an electric car with a range extender into the current market, just a few months after General Motors' Chevrolet Volt went on sale.

Mr Fisker said he believes this puts his small Californian company well ahead of most of the competition.

"Everybody says they're going to do one, but talk is easy," he said.

The Karma is a much more luxurious car than the Volt, however, which the company hopes will make it a rival to high-end models from Audi, BMW, Mercedes and Porsche.

Henrik Fisker, chief executive, Fisker Automotive Henrik Fisker used to design cars for Aston Martin and BMW

"The whole idea behind the car was no sacrifice for the consumer in terms of styling, power or price," he said.

"We call this responsible luxury," Mr Fisker said, revealing that the Karma will be priced "close to the Porsche Panamera petrol-electric hybrid", which was also launched at the Geneva motor show on Tuesday.

The Karma starts at about 85,000 euros ($117,000; £72,000) with some models costing more, he said.

Hence, selling 15,000 cars could bring in close to $1.5bn in revenues, he reasoned.

As the company continues to expand the Fisker model range, it will also start making a medium-sized plug-in petrol-electric hybrid, dubbed Nina.

'Power, beauty and freedom'

According to Mr Fisker, there is a big difference between pure electric cars and those with range extenders fitted.

Range-extender cars have batteries too, as well as petrol-powered engines that drive a generator, which in turn sends power to the car's electric motor.

This overcomes the so-called "range anxiety" suffered by some electric car drivers, Mr Fisker said.

Fisker Karma seating The Fisker Karma seats four adults comfortably

The Karma's lithium-ion battery is said to deliver a 50-mile range on a full charge. The range extender adds a further 250 miles.

The car's performance is said to be impressive; a 400bhp powertrain delivers nought to 60mph in less than six seconds and a top speed of 125mph.

"Cars are about three things: power, beauty and freedom," said Mr Fisker.

"You may be able to get power and beauty in an electric car," he said in an obvious dig at rival electric car company Tesla.

"But in a range-extender car, the knowledge that you can leave the city is freedom."

For this reason, Mr Fisker insisted, electric cars "will stay a niche for a long time", whereas models kitted out with range extenders could become mainstream.

Financing expansion

Fisker may not be the carmaker to make this happen, however.

It is supported by the US government through a $528m loan that is part of a federal energy programme which aims to support innovative automobile technologies.

In addition, venture capitalists have injected a similar amount, Mr Fisker said.

Even so, it may not be enough to achieve the sort of growth figures that the Danish entrepreneur is hoping for.

To achieve that, Fisker may well need to partner with a large automobile company.

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