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Fisker’s ‘autonomous’ EMotion electric car promises 400 miles of range

The doors don’t really work yet, but the car smells nice

Photography by James Bareham

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The Fisker EMotion is the second attempt from a designer of high-end luxury cars to make an electrified performance sedan. But unlike CEO and designer Henrik Fisker’s previous attempt at making a car and car company, the EMotion is trying to leapfrog a whole host of startups.

And, at CES, that’s sometimes a tall order. After all, there have been a lot of ambitious claims by various carmakers trying to shake up the automotive world when it comes to self-driving abilities, battery capacity, the use of touchscreens, and even audacious door designs. The EMotion is trying to do all of the above.

Henrik Fisker.
Henrik Fisker.

Fisker is now Fisker, Inc., the company Henrik Fisker created after the previous firm that bore his name fell into bankruptcy. Back in 2012, Fisker’s Karma plug-in luxury sedan fell flat on the market, bungled by quality issues and perhaps Elon Musk stealing the posh electric car show with the Model S. The Karma sort of lives on as the Karma Revero, but Fisker the man moved on to another project, and wanted nothing more than change — and also a challenge.

“Maybe the norm is to start out with an SUV like all these other luxury startups,” Fisker told The Verge on Monday alongside his new car on the CES show floor. “Maybe the norm is conventional doors. We made some unique doors here. We wanted to do something not traditional, to show what kind of a brand we are. And we are a brand that’s nonconformist.”

At first glance, the EMotion can’t help but evoke some memories of the old Fisker Karma, but that was to be expected. It’s curvaceous and immensely detailed, having distinctly classic luxury car proportions at a time when EV concepts take lots of advantages with the packaging afforded by battery-powered vehicles without multi-speed transmissions or exhaust lines. The 24-inch wheels this concept sits on are also imposing, and they’re also a dead giveaway at its performance aspirations: its top speed is pegged at 161 mph.

That’s perhaps unsurprising given his track record with cars like the BMW Z8 and Aston Martin V8 Vantage. But his work style is perhaps unlike other EV designers. The interior was designed using virtual models and thinking about ergonomics, but Fisker said he wanted a more traditional way of shaping the exterior in the form of a full clay model.

“I still like to see a full-size clay model,” he said, while pointing to all of the surface detailing going on at the front of the EMotion. “There’s nothing like walking up and getting an idea of the size of the vehicle, getting an idea of the full proportions and sculpture. It’s something you can never really see virtually. In every car design, I would always do a full-size vehicle.”

Fisker wanted to give the EMotion a statement piece, so it gave it four. The all-wheel drive sedan’s doors open in a partial gullwing fashion (not like the Falcon doors of a Tesla Model X, that’s for sure) and are controlled by smartphone. (On the model parked on the stand, however, they were inoperable at the time we saw the car.) Fisker admits the company hasn’t quite figured out the doors for production models, probably wanting to avoid issues at launch. But electrically controlling them with an app and having illuminated flush door handles is asking for trouble. At least the hinges are strikingly beautiful things when the doors do open.

Despite challenging himself with keeping the EMotion as a low-slung sedan that’s slightly longer than a BMW 5 series, Fisker says he wanted a generously spacious interior. With the wheels pushed out nearly to the ends of the car and the dense battery pack under the floor, the EMotion is certainly a packaging improvement over the Karma, which was notoriously large on the outside, but had less space inside than most small hatchbacks.

What dominates the interior at first glance are the three screens upfront: a large touchscreen for various vehicle functions and two at the top of the dashboard for other readings. Compared to the Byton concept also unveiled at CES, these screens look tiny. Still, the only physical switches are a multifunction controller on the steering wheel and the stalks for controlling the lights and wipers. Locking and starting will also be controlled via a smartphone app.

“In the old days, luxury was defined by how many buttons you had. I think it’s now defined by how much touchscreen area you have inside,” Fisker said. “But ultimately, when we look up from all the screens, we want to see some really high-quality design.”

And to that end, seemingly every inch of the EMotion’s interior is covered in leather or metal or carbon fiber. Even the concept looked and felt high quality — and it smelled amazing, which is not always a given with show cars from startups. The attention to detail in the EMotion is striking, but perhaps unsurprising given that it’s truly a designer’s car.

“You don’t want a car to be so boring that you’ve discovered everything within a few minutes,” Fisker said. “I think you want it to be exciting enough so when you’re sitting in the interior, yes, it’s a simple door [panel], but it has some interesting forms. It has unique leathers, like this rippled leather that you may discover later.”

The EMotion onstage was a Chauffeur Edition, Fisker said with a passenger’s seat that moves farther forward to give a rear passenger extra legroom and a large screen bolted to the back of the front seat for the rear passenger to control various functions. But all cars are the same length and standard cars do without that enormous screen in the rear. Four individual seats are also standard, with an option for a five-passenger model.  

The EMotion sits at CES on Quanergy’s stand, the company that supplies the car’s LIDAR and the reason Fisker is so confident about the car’s Level 4 self-driving abilities when it is released. Quanergy CEO Louay Eldada says he’s spent 27 years working on a system that is “no larger than a deck of cards,” and that’s affordable and sophisticated enough to fit discreetly in four places on the side of the car — and prominently up front under the company’s logo. Whatever you want to make of the car’s LIDAR nose, it’s a big part of the EMotion’s image.

Quanergy’s LIDAR uses sensor hardware and perception software, a first, says the Sunnyvale, California-based company. Eldada says the solid state LIDAR has the reliability that’s required for automotive applications at this level of self-driving — as well as the size needed to fit on a detailed car such as the EMotion.

“Give it to a world-class designer like Henrik, and he’ll integrate it anywhere into the vehicle,” Eldada said.

Fisker says he pegged a 400-mile target range because he felt it was another ambitious claim that would set his car apart in a crowded startup EV field.

“I thought we needed range longer than competitors,” he said. “I felt 400 was also enough to break a psychological barrier for owners who were worried about owning a fully electric vehicle.”

While Fisker talks about a flexible solid state battery pack for the EMotion, that technology won’t be ready by the car’s target launch date of late 2019, so a lithium-ion battery pack is being used for now. Even so, Fisker is confident about getting the solid state technology in the car early next decade and even offering it up to other manufacturers in the automotive and consumer electronics fields. He says the technology would allow for a much smaller battery pack in a car, especially, and also greater range with charge times of just a few minutes.

Fisker says there will be an announcement about an assembly facility later this year, along with a solid state battery factory that may or may not be in California. (Testing is underway on a prototype line.) And given federal regulators’ dissatisfaction with the way Level 2 and Level 3 systems have been marketed by manufacturers to owners, there’s almost certainly going to be some controversy over Fisker’s Level 4 facilities if it’s the first to market with that claim.

“I think you could do a luxury SUV, but you could also do a luxury shuttle,” he said. “The sedan I think was the greatest challenge to combine beauty, interior space, high technology. I just felt this was the right vehicle for Fisker to start up with in this new guise and say, ‘Hey, this is what we stand for.’”