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Fisker will challenge Tesla with its own high-end electric car

Henrik Fisker's latest creation, the EMotion, will look to take on Tesla and other high-end electric cars.
(Fisker)

Henrik Fisker is returning to the electric vehicle market with a high-cost, high-mileage, battery-powered supercar.

The acclaimed luxury car designer said in an interview with The Times that he will team with a major manufacturer to produce a mainstream, affordable electric car too — possibly by selling the manufacturer his new battery technology, or possibly by sharing Fisker’s platform.

The EMotion, whose name Fisker said “reflects the emotional connection with the consumer,” will be produced at the Michigan plant that is currently building the Fisker-designed Force 1, a $268,000 gasoline-powered car that the Los Angeles-trained auto builder is selling through his VLF Automotive. (The first of a limited run of 50 Force 1s is just now being delivered to a customer in Texas, Fisker said.)

The new vehicle, which could be shown as early as mid-2017 and begin production not long after, will be “sporty and spacious,” Fisker said.

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The vehicle will include a large curved front windscreen pushed forward, diving into a low bonnet. The rear features an integrated spoiler and “aggressive functional diffusor to aid aerodynamics,” which will help the car achieve a 161 mph top speed and a 400-mile electric range, he said.

It will also recharge faster than any electric car currently on the market — and have longer battery life, he said.

That will be possible, Fisker claimed, because he and a group of UCLA-based engineers have hit on radical new battery technology that reduces weight and size while increasing power density. The EMotion will use a new battery technology using graphene, with battery packs produced by Fisker Nanotech, a joint venture between Fisker Inc. and Nanotech Energy Inc.

At the same time, he said, they have reconfigured the layout of the electric power train, and found a new way to integrate the battery into the vehicle.

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More power per size allows for more usable space in the car, which Fisker said would offer more legroom than many of the best European luxury cars.

The EMotion will be equipped with hardware that will allow fully autonomous driving when approved and released by a soon-to-be-announced partnered supplier, he said.

Fisker said the car will be a “low-volume” production — “a few thousand a year” — but would be followed by a second, more affordable vehicle that could be manufactured in the “hundred thousand a year” range.

Over the last two decades, Fisker, 53, has designed some of the sexiest cars on the road. He is best known for designing the BMW Z8 and the Aston Martin DB9 and V8 Vantage, vehicles with six-figure sticker prices and ageless silhouettes.

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This latest approach is different from Fisker’s previous production plan. In 2007, the Danish designer launched Fisker Automotive, an Irvine-based car company that received a half-billion-dollar loan from the U.S. government to build gas-electric hybrid cars.

But the brand fizzled after problems with the Fisker Karma hybrid led to a bankruptcy and sale of assets.

A Chinese company ended up owning the Karma name, which has resulted in a new Karma Automotive, currently building electric Revero sedans in a plant in Moreno Valley.

The industry challenges that Fisker faced in the company’s first go-round are still prevalent today. Although Tesla has proved naysayers wrong, many electric car companies are still struggling to find their footing. And running a successful car company — eco-friendly or not — is expensive and complicated.

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Eric Lyman, vice president of industry insights at TrueCar, said that coming out of the Great Recession there were a dozen to 20 electric vehicle makers -- “and virtually all of them are gone.”

“I think it’s less about the actual product execution -- that’s part of it, you can’t succeed with an inferior product -- it’s whether the leadership has the capital and the business acumen to navigate the really tricky landscape,” he said.

Fisker said he took several lessons away from the previous iteration.

“The two learnings I’ve taken from starting Fisker are that you have to be in charge of your own battery and testing and all that,” the designer said. “And the other is with manufacturing. It’s very tough to do high-volume manufacturing, for a start-up company. The Fisker Karma was a low-volume vehicle with expensive tooling. This time we want to deploy most of our capital on the high-volume vehicle.”

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Fisker declined to say whose capital he’ll be spending.

The new vehicle will feature dihedral “butterfly” front and rear doors — somewhat akin to the doors on a McLaren, and a cousin to the troublesome “falcon wing” doors on the Tesla Model X.

Fisker said his engineers have been working “in stealth mode” for a long time on the doors, and that they should not present the same difficulties that the “falcon wing” doors did for Tesla and its co-founder, Elon Musk.

Indeed, Fisker had words of admiration for his luxury EV competitor.

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“You can go the safe way, or you can innovate and do something new,” he said. “Elon decided to do that, and I think that’s great. Someone has to take the first risk.”

Fisker was more tight-lipped about the specifics of his new battery technology, except to praise its potential. Saying more, he said, would tip off his rivals.

“There are a lot of new start-ups here in California, so we have to keep it confidential,” Fisker said.

But they exist, right?

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“We have a secret battery plant, somewhere in California, that is already producing the new cells,” Fisker said. “No one knows where it is. Very few people on my team are allowed to visit it.”

Times staff writer Andrea Chang contributed to this report.

Charles.Fleming@latimes.com

Twitter: @misterfleming

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UPDATES:

3:35 p.m.: This story has been updated with additional background on Henrik Fisker and Fisker Automotive.

11:15 a.m.: This story has been updated with comment from a car analyst.

This article was originally published at 6 a.m.

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