Drive by Numbers - Fisker Karma beyond the Bieber

Edmunds' Senior Analyst discusses the numbers behind the boutique brand


 Jessica Caldwell, Senior Analyst I feel as if I have a personal connection with Fisker. And not just because I want to be like Justin Bieber but because the brand's sole L.A. dealership is a few blocks away from my home. I see it a lot. I peer into it on a near daily basis while waiting for my iced coffee at Starbucks, which is across the street. I pass it every time I go east and when I stop at the CVS. I watched the dealership construction from beginning to end. I was slightly dismayed when it put up a gigantic vinyl banner that said "FISKER" (c'mon, you're asking people to fork over six figures here) and I was relieved on the day when the vinyl banner was replaced by a proper sign. After all, the vinyl banner just wasn't classin' up the neighborhood too nicely.

I saw the first retail registrations for the Fisker Karma start to pop up in January of this year. From January to the end of May, they've registered a total of 381 in the U.S. (retail) market. It's definitely a miniscule number when you realize that's considerably less than the daily selling rate of the Honda Accord. However, despite the low number you can't say this car hasn't gotten its fair share of attention of late.

28%
The exotic car segment's consideration traffic increased by 31% on Edmunds.com in the month of July, and a lot of this bump can be attributed to Fisker's Karma. Taking it one step further, this can actually be traced back to teen heartthrob and pop sensation Justin Bieber.

Last month Bieber got into trouble with the California Highway Patrol when he reportedly drove his Karma in excess of 100 mph due to the throngs of paparazzi chasing him. The news was everywhere — from TMZ to CNN. And since every step Bieber makes is followed closely by his 26M+ Twitter followers, the curiosity about this car reached a fevered pitch following the incident. The result? A big spike in interest for Fisker. This isn't an isolated case of Bieber Fever helping out the Fisker brand either, as traffic also spiked tremendously in March when Bieber was gifted the Karma on The Ellen DeGeneres Show. The question is: are the people checking out the car really going to purchase it? Of course they aren't, but this type of exposure — particularly to the advertising-resistant youth — is priceless.

Still doubtful of the Bieber effect? Check out the consideration numbers on Edmunds.com:

Fisker Karma Consideration

I must add that Biebs wasn't the only heartthrob associated with the Fisker brand in July, as Leonardo DiCaprio of Titanic fame also announced a partnership to work with the automaker on Global Sustainability. However, given its serious nature, I don't think it made as many headlines.

3.4%
OK, we got the Biebs as an owner (we won't count DiCaprio as a retail customer since he's an investor), but who are the other 380 people? The demographics reflect for the most part a vehicle that transacts in the $100K+ price range, but there are some surprises. The Karma outpaces other expensive vehicles in the under-55 age group, with 3.4% of the registrants between age 18 and 34. Sure, it may not seem like a lot, but this age group doesn't have a lot of buying power. Given the price point and home infrastructure needed, it's surprising that anyone in this age range is buying them at all.

Average age of Fisker buyer

38
It's no surprise that the largest numbers of Fisker Karmas are registered in California in comparison to the other 49 states. Over a quarter of all sales come from the Golden State, which is generally the sales leader of any advanced-technology vehicle. And if you add up the three West Coast states of the U.S., it accounts for nearly one third of total retail registrations.

Considering it doesn't have the most extensive dealer network, the Karma has a fairly good distribution of sales, with vehicles registered in 38 of the 50 states. The concentration of sales is spotty, though. Delaware has only one Fisker registered in the state despite having a dealership. It's a small state in size and population but potential customers don't have to go too far to get the car. Montana, on the other hand, has two registered in the state despite the fact that there are no dealerships near Montana. If you're a resident of the state's largest city, Billings, the nearest Fisker dealership is more than 400 miles away in Salt Lake City. That's some dedication.

Here's how the state ownership shakes out:

Fisker Karma Sales

And in this week's bonus round, what are people trading in to purchase their Fisker Karma? The answer is basically what you'd expect -- a lot of high-end cars. The sample size I have for this data is quite limited, as people who buy Karmas aren't really in the position of having to trade in a vehicle. That said, the list reads like the contents of Jay Leno's garage. Not surprisingly, fellow sport sedan Porsche Panamera leads the pack of having the most trade-ins, with the rest being the crème de la crème of the high-end world - Quattroporte, Continental GTC, V8 Vantage, 911, and so forth. Curiously, there is a Ford F-150 on the list and more curiously is a Ram 3500. I can't imagine someone driving a dually one day and the electric Karma the next. Can you? If anyone can imagine a good back story for this, please enlighten me in the comments section below.

Do you like numbers, too? If so, check out our Industry Data Center

Jessica Caldwell is the Senior Director of Pricing & Industry Analysis for Edmunds.com. Follow @jessrcaldwell on Twitter.

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