Fisker Karma, A $96,000 Subcompact?By John O'Dell October 25, 2011
Nobody likes to always be the butt of jokes, but sometimes the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) just makes itself too easy a target. The latest? The agency, which determines size classifications for cars in order to apply CO2 reduction goals (that would be fuel economy standards to those of us not in the EPA), has determined that the 2012 Fisker Karma (above) range-extended plug-in hybrid, despite a length of 16.5-feet, width that exceeds 6 feet and sumo-like weight exceeding 2.5 tons, is -- wait for it -- a subcompact.
The rationale? Despite its outside dimensions and powerful 403-horsepower electric powerplant, the $96,000 Fisker -- an exotic luxury sedan with four seats in the tradition of most four-place exotic sports sedans (it helps to be a compact person if you want to get into one of those back seats) -- doesnt measure up in total interior space. Seems the EPA determines size categories based on interior volume, not overall measurements, and the Fisker comes in at under the cutoff of 100 cubic-feet that divides subcompacts from compacts.
A spokesman for Fisker Automotive said the designation -- which appears on the new EPA fuel economy label Fisker is using even though it is not required to do so until its starts selling a 2013 model -- wont affect sales because buyers who are willing to plunk down $96,000 and up for one of the cars know what they are getting and dont really care what the feds want to call it.
But, boy, are we going to have fun in future model comparisons! We wont be able to compare it to a Volt because Chevrolets range-extended plug-in hybrid is in a different class -- $56,000 cheaper and a whole size larger with an EPA compact car classification. Among the other 2012 cars the EPA classifies as subcompacts are the Audi TT, Aston Martin Rapide, Bentley Continental Supersports Convertible, Ford Mustang, Chevrolet Sonic, Mini Cooper Clubman and Volkswagen Beetle. Hmm, lets see hows this for a headline? Edmunds.com Subcompact Smackdown: the 403-horsepower Fisker Karma, 621 hp Bentley Supersports and Chevrolets 138-pony Sonic!
The auto industry uses a different measuring stick -- overall length -- to define classes, and so do we at Edmunds.com. So I didnt discover the subcompact rating silliness until writing the other day about the Karmas unexpectedly low EPA fuel efficiency rating of 52 miles per gallon-equivalent. The label the company sent me to review compares the Karma to subcompacts -- and says the fuel economy rating in the class ranges from a low of 19 mpg (the Aston Martin, the Bentley and the Mercedes-Benz C63 AMG) to a high of 112 mpg-equivalent (the all-electric 2012 Mitsubishi i EV). Fisker Automotive co-founder and Chairman Henrik Fisker has said -- and still maintains -- that his companys car will deliver 50 miles on a single charge of its batteries, 56 percent more than the EPA says. The EPA test cycle used to determine the official rating is a worst case scenario, a Fisker spokesman said.
It does deliver some pretty worst cases. The figure is arrived at by combining the cars 32 mpg-equivalent rating when running on battery power alone and the 20 mpg that it is rated when the batterys charge is depleted and the on-board 4-cylinder gasoline engine/generator is pumping out the electrons needed to keep the all-electric drive system running. But thats only good for the first 52 miles, in which the Karma, per the EPA, would burn one gallon of gas. At 72 miles, presuming the battery isnt recharged, the car would have gone through two gallons, reducing its fuel efficiency to just 36 mpg-equivalent. Efficiency would decline further to 30.6 mpg at 92 miles, and down and down until, at its EPA-rated range of 230 miles on one battery charge and one tank of gas, the Karma would have swilled 9.9 gallons for the combined equivalent of 23.2 mpg, or about what a base 6-cylinder 2012 Ford Mustang delivers.
One Fisker insider, obviously miffed at both the mileage rating and the subcompact designation, said of the EPAs unlikely lumping of cars like the Fisker, Chevy Sonic and Bentley Supersport that it gives you a good idea of how much faith you should put in these fuel economy ratings.