Among the most reliable sources of mirth during these unhappy days is the fact that almost everyone considers himself some sort of environmentalist — so far as anyone has been able to establish, not even mighty ExxonMobil has dared to suggest that the ozone layer should be converted to a theme park — countered by the fact that the vast majority of people proclaiming themselves as travelers on the Green Way have no idea where they're going or how they're going to get there, only that it's a Better Place they're going. (Point out to them, however gently, that they have basically created a pseudoreligion for themselves, and they'll have you burned as a heretic.) The basis of this faith, so far as I have been able to tell, is that true energy, as distinguished from that horrible brand vended on street corners, is free to those who believe, and that true kindness is displayed by dragging those troglodytic infidels away from their noisy, smoke-belching, non-green machines and into the Light of Truth.

What really chaps their hides, though, is discovering that they can't get there from here as easily as they'd thought, and worse, that the benefits don't descend from the heavens in quite the way they'd anticipated. There was much wailing and gnashing of teeth when word got out this past week that the semi-iconic Fisker Karma plug-in hybrid, now shipping after several delays, gets pretty mundane fuel-consumption numbers according to the Environmental Protection Agency — 20 mpg running the 260-hp gas engine and the equivalent of 52 mpg in full-electric mode — and worse, that it's assembled in Finland, despite the fact that Fisker owns a US production facility, a former GM plant in Delaware, and despite the fact that Fisker, like several other automakers, was happy to accept substantial ($529 billion!) federal loan guarantees in order to make this Big Green Machine happen. It's as though St. Augustine himself took a dump on their porch.

Of course, if they'd been paying attention, they'd have known that Fisker announced the construction deal with Valmet, which assembles other low-volume, high-performance vehicles — think Porsche Boxster/Cayman — back in 2008, even before the Department of Energy had signed on. And DOE says they knew about it when they approved Fisker's application in 2009. Fisker's second car line, the half-as-expensive Nina, will indeed be built, in greater numbers, in Delaware. So the current reaction reeks mostly of "OMG, what if this is another Solyndra?"

There are several reasons why it might not be. For one, unlike the relatively faceless Solyndra, Fisker has a very visible frontman, and Henrick Fisker does have something of a track record, at least in terms of separating wealthy suckers from their cash: consider the successful Fisker Coachbuild, which produced custom bodies for otherwise-mundane Bimmers and Mercedes. Think of him as [John Z. De Lorean] + [experience] - [cocaine]. And Valmet does good work. If they can get through the first 8000 or so without incident, Fisker Automotive is set.

The EPA numbers may be more troubling, but there's a reason for that, and it becomes more obvious when you notice that at no point has Fisker ever admitted to how much the Karma actually weighs. Reviewers, not having gotten cars for long enough to get them on to a proper scale, have alluded to its heaviness: Car and Driver guessed 4300 lb, and Automobile "wouldn't be surprised to find that the Karma weighs well over 5000 pounds." The laws of physics will not be denied.

Still, the disappointment in some circles seems palpable, and it's easy to see why: what the inhabitants of those circles wanted most was something that enabled them to (1) consume conspicuously, (2) justify their faith in all things green, and (3) thumb their noses at those wicked people in Chevy Suburbans. (Exact order of priorities may vary.) Me, I'm happy to see the Karma available, because it's fricking gorgeous, and if it catches on, some of its design elements may eventually trickle down to something I could actually afford. Annoying some of our cultural arbiters is a fringe benefit, nothing more.

The Vent

  23 October 2011

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 Copyright © 2011 by Charles G. Hill