Henrik Fisker is one of the most fascinating figures in the auto industry today. After a distinguished career designing memorable vehicles for others like the Aston Martin DB9 – and notably the BMW Z8 and Aston Martin V8 Vantage famously driven by James Bond – he set off on his own path. His first effort, featuring the gorgeous plug-in Fisker Karma of his own design, ended abruptly in 2013. But everyone loves a good comeback story, and Fisker is delivering one with Fisker Inc., the company he and CFO wife/cofounder Geeta Gupta-Fisker launched in 2016.
RON COGAN: You’ve designed some amazing and iconic vehicles for legacy automakers. What drove you to become an automaker yourself?
HENRIK FISKER: “I felt like in my corporate career I had hit the ceiling, and the pinnacle was designing two cars for Aston Martin, the V8 Vantage and DB9. I wanted to get out and get my hands dirty, and start doing something where I challenged myself. I really had a passion for the idea of coming up with sustainable vehicles that were also emotional and exciting. That’s how I started Fisker Automotive, originally with the Fisker Karma.”
RC: What are the most important lessons you’ve learned from your experience with the former Fisker Automotive, and how are you applying those at Fisker Inc. today?
FISKER: “If you have the ability to de-risk something, then do it. That’s lesson number one. An example would be, originally with Fisker Automotive, we didn’t really have a choice of a battery maker. There were only three and we were left to take the third one, which was A123, because Panasonic was with Tesla at the time and I think LG Chem had an exclusive with GM.
“Today we have the possibility to either choose some untested battery technology from a new startup, or we take tested battery technology from a large battery maker. We have chosen the latter, because I believe there’s too big a risk there, and we don’t really need to take that risk because the technology is getting better and better. We think it’s going to take a lot longer to come up with radical new battery technologies than we, and a lot of people, originally thought…I think we’re at least seven to 10 years away.”
RC: How will you stay ahead of the advanced battery curve?
FISKER: “When you buy a car today, any new car, the technology in that car is probably three to four years old, because it was decided three or four years ago. What we are trying to do is shorten that time down to 18 to 24 months, where we can decide on technology that late. When you get our car in the next year, we decided on the battery technology this year, which means we have the latest, newest technology.
“To give you an example, when we looked at technology in 2020, only a year ago, we estimated a range of 300 miles. Because we could delay that decision to now, we now can have a better, more energy-efficient cell and a more energy-efficient pack, which means we are getting up to about a 350-mile range. That is the advantage of being able to choose technology very late in the development process.”
RC: Any other lessons learned?
FISKER: “Number two, I would say, is financing. Originally, at Fisker Automotive we had many, many financing rounds, and we saw other companies as well, like Tesla, having many financing rounds. What happens is you end up having delays, because you never get the financing when you need it. When you have a delay developing a car you actually end up increasing costs because time is cost. The other lesson learned: Go and get the total amount of money you need for your first car.”
RC: Does that mean you have enough now to fully produce the Ocean?
FISKER: “We needed slightly less than a billion dollars to get the Fisker Ocean to market, and said we aren’t going to kick off the program full speed until we raised the entire amount of money. We decided last year to do a SPAC merger, where we went public and we raised over $1 billion. To this date we have had no delays. We are going full speed, and we are still on target to launch the vehicle next year.”
RC: Can you share insight into your asset-light business model?
FISKER: “The advantage is that you’re taking less risk, specifically in manufacturing. We have seen what Tesla has gone through, ‘manufacturing hell.’ They have been pretty clear about it. I don’t know that either investors or customers have the patience that they may have had many, many years ago, where it was still the early adopters that bought electric cars.
“I think the competition is a lot stronger today, and I think the expectation is a high-quality car on par with any other traditional OEM out there. This was really important for us. Yes, there might be some car enthusiast fanatics that feel it’s super cool if you make your own car, but the reality is that I don’t want to risk our company or the quality just to prove we can manufacture a car better than Toyota. I don’t think it has any real relevance to our stakeholders or to our customers, quite frankly. Nobody questions the fact that Apple doesn’t make its own phones.”
RC: So you’ve contracted your manufacturing out to Magna.
FISKER: “Magna is probably one of the best automotive manufacturers in the world, manufacturing some of the highest-quality cars out there, for German luxury makers to even one large Japanese conglomerate. We know this is their job. We are paying them to do it, and they will deliver a high-quality vehicle straight out of the gate.
“If you are manufacturing in your own plant and you’re still in the learning process, that means you’re going to spend more hours per car, and that is cost. I’ll bet you our vehicle is actually at a lower cost-per-vehicle to manufacture than any of our startup competitors, because they aren’t going to make perfect vehicles in the lowest amount of time straight out of the box, like Magna can do it. They will do it at the right man-hours per vehicle, and therefore our costs per vehicle are already fixed. This gives us an advantage, which is why we can already announce pricing on our vehicle, because we know those costs.”
RC: How important is your deal with Foxconn to your future plans?
FISKER: “I think it’s extremely important and it has accelerated our business model. Through this partnership, we are able to get to an even more affordable vehicle much quicker than the Fisker Ocean. It also gives us the opportunity to revolutionize the future of the automobile in a way that would have taken longer under normal circumstances. We are partnering with a group that was part of the smartphone revolution, quite frankly, and they’re an amazing partner for making a revolution in the automotive industry.”
RC: Can you share more details?
FISKER: “It’s going to be very futuristic. I’m going to take a lot of risk in terms of design and certain features in this vehicle to really shake up things, and look at maybe new ways of usability in what I would call a mobility device. Let’s call it that right now. I think this vehicle will be hard to categorize – in the way we normally say, ‘it’s a sedan or an SUV, or so on’ – and it’s on purpose.”
RC: What’s ahead?
FISKER: “You can’t forget the fact that a car company really, in my opinion, only becomes a car company once you have multiple models. We did not want to launch the Fisker Ocean and then start the next program, because that way you’re waiting another two and a half years for the next vehicle. Instead, we are actually working on multiple vehicles right now, so we can have a quick cadence of products. Our plan is to come up with four vehicles before 2025, and so far, we are on course for that.”