Thursday, June 27, 2013

Tesla and Fisker Compared

I live right next to an upscale Seattle neighborhood that now seems to boast an owner of a Tesla S sedan. Actually, I've noticed several Teslas tooling around Seattle and its high-tech eastern suburbs in recent weeks. The Tesla S model is a luxury-priced four-door sedan powered by electricity with an exceptional (for its kind) range of more than 200 miles (300 km) and partial (but somewhat useful) battery re-changing time of around an hour. Its competitor was the Fisker Karma, but at the time I'm drafting this post, the Fisker company appears doomed to extinction.

Nevertheless, it is interesting to compare the styling of the two cars because they were intended to occupy the same market niche -- a political "statement" car for buyers with plenty of spare cash as well as other, more practical cars in their garages.

The Fisker Karma was styled by the company founder, Henrik Fisker, a Danish stylist whose career included stints at BMW and Aston-Martin. The Tesla S was styled by Franz von Holzhausen who worked at General Motors' now defunct Pontiac division and Mazda, the Japanese manufacturer.

Here is a photo of Fisker in a styling studio with a Karma. Fisker is not longer with the company.

Let's examine the Tesla S and Fisker Karma by comparing side and three-quarter views.



Both stylists chose to make their cars low even though the sedan design fashion in recent years has been for taller cars. However, high-priced sports car continue to be built low to the ground to evoke racing cars, so they must have decided to incorporate that styling cue.

Fisker and von Holzhausen also proportioned their cars to look like gasoline-powered automobiles with the engine in the front with real-wheel drive, as has been BMW's practice, for example.  A car with the motor at the front with front-wheel drive would tend to exhibit greater front overhang than what we see here.

Other commonalities include fully exposed wheels with tight wheelhouse openings along with a side-window motif featuring convergence to a sharp point at the rear.  The top profiles are also similar, probably the result of wind tunnel testing. Differences include more pronounced fender bulges on the Karma.



Front three-quarter views show that the Karma's greenhouse sits more forward than the Tesla's (visible in the side views, but not so distinctly). The more curvacious fender bulges on the Karma serve to give its greenhouse a "nested" look, whereas the Tesla's body tends to stage downwards from the high point of the roof. The headlamp treatments also differ, the Karma's more vertical shape combines with the front fender bulge to emphasize fender height and enhance the greenhouse nesting. Since neither car requires a conventional radiator, the cars' "grille" treatments are essentially artifice. The Tesla is more "honest" here because most of the material inside the bright outline band is simply black-painted body surface.



Rear three-quarter views reveal conventional 2010 vintage styling. The Karma is more sculpted, the image below showing the fussy details slightly better. I'm not sure what the inserts in the false exhaust openings are supposed to do. The Tesla's design incorporates one oddity: rather than a trunk lid, the rear opening is a hatchback. For some reason, hatchbacks never proved popular in America so I wonder why this type of access was chosen for the Tesla. My best guess is that the rear window ("backlight") extended so far to the rear that there simply wasn't room to incorporate a conventional trunk lid.


In conclusion, my take is that both designs are flashy, imparting the feel of sports cars.  This is especially so for the Fisker Karma. Although the Tesla seems more conservatively styled when compared to the Karma in the photos above, its low profile and the pointed side window profile are un-conservative compared to most other cars on view in the same street. I find the Karma's styling a little too gimicky and the Tesla's "grille" area too phoney, but in general both cars are competently done.

Which might I want to buy? Neither, because electricity powered cars are impractical for a person who can afford only one automobile at a time. When they get recharging time down the the number of minutes it takes to fill a gas tank, I might change my mind.

1 comment:

Olivier said...

Interesting read. However, I noticed following mistake:

neither car requires a conventional radiator

The Fisker Karma is a series-hybrid vehicle, and has a 2-liter petrol engine, which does require a conventional radiator.*

The Tesla Model S, being a pure electric vehicle, needs indeed less cooling capability than a conventional car (i.e. smaller radiators).


*And an exhaust, which is interestingly located close to the left front wheel.