The Coachbuilders, Part II
The Tramonto talks the talk. But does it walk the walk? Does it dance? Does it know how to shake what its got? Yes. Well, we don’t have in-depth experience. But please, how crazy do you have to be to let a bunch of journalists you’ve probably never ridden with drive your basically priceless, currently one-off, not-yet-shown-officially-in-public car? You think any major automobile manufacturer would let anybody drive a concept car before its unveiling? No way Jose.
But Henrik Fisker did just that. We were having a great conversation about his cars and his company, but just then his VP of Communications, Cristina Cheever, announced it was "time to go drive some cars." Gentlemen start your engines. You have 610 hp on tap, sent straight to those rear wheels. Danish engine tuner Kleeman (appropriate choice for a Danish designer’s company) was responsible for bringing the starting engine package from 493 hp to that astronomical number. We cruised out of the St. Regis parking lot, still chatting to Henrik about the wonders of his creation, and then he stopped answering my last question and started looking a bit nervously around. He sat back in his seat and said, "Ok, you can go ahead and stomp on it now." What!? Really? Not only are we outside the safety of a wide open parking lot, subject to the dangers of Southern California public roads, but you want me to let this show car rip? All 610 horses, unleashes right now? Yes, sir!
I waited till we exited our corner and unleashed the power of my right foot – I never knew I had the power of six hundred horses stored in just half the road contacting portion of my pedestrian vehicle. It’s a sort of surgery, I guess, a prosthetic limb which gives you this power. It’s like what happened to Anakin Skywalker. Welcome to the dark side, Vader. Let er rip!
A luscious, slightly raw, very American sound explodes from the exhaust tips at the rear of the car and the Tramonto surges powerfully, so powerfully forward. As to the American sound of this car, Henrik says he wanted it to sound "a little bit like NASCAR." Well, it sounds better in our opinion, and NASCAR doesn’t have much on this force – there’s only about a 100 hp difference, and one of those two has a purely race bred motor. We blasted up a hill like it was nothing, the engine raging in a powerful yet somehow refined manner, just throwing power down to the road, the huge rear tires gripping the road with great force. Quick, crisp shifts of the automatic transmission balance a desire for luxurious comfort in load changes while handling monstrous torque, and under heavy acceleration take little time away from power transfer to the rear wheels.
Yet with all of this power, the car was easy to drive. Henrik’s intention was that you not need your SCCA license to pilot this hot rocket, and he was successful. The Tramonto is not immediately twitchy or temperamental. It’s a civil, elegant beast that knows how to behave itself around town, at least as far as we took could tell from our first spin.
The Tramonto is very heavy. It is low. It seems there is some active force, almost more than gravity, pulling all the mass of this car low to the ground. It is powerful. It grips. It handles well. It is responsive to all inputs, at a level higher than what we would consider appropriate for a grand touring car. This is comfortable to ride in, though it is a bit bumpy. This is definitely a serious performance machine.
Sitting anchored in that incredible leather clad driver’s seat, foot to the floor, adding some steering input as we tear through a steep uphill right-hand sweeper, wind whistling through the top of our hair, or standing in a courtyard, admiring the fabulous sculpture adorning this car’s frame, you realize something…this car must be expensive. Very expensive. Yet, in the time between Fisker Coachbuild’s arrival and our arrival at the St. Regis, Bernhard Koehler believes he sold another Tramonto. They had sold dozens already by the time we met to discuss their future. And the goal is they will all be sold by the time they begin production; the owners become investors in a little more involved sense than the typical consumer, and they are rewarded with an experience equivalent to a membership in a club more rare, exclusive, and fun than your typical ultimate country club.
The Tramonto will certainly help pay Fisker's bills up front. The primary source of external capital comes from a group of a dozen international investors – individual investors, that is. Henrik and Bernie were rather attament about retaining control of the company, so they avoided seeking help from investor groups who might try to take over the company. One of the primary attractors in this small corporation is the complete departure form today’s world of design by committee. The very thought of extra hands trying to work their way into the design and concept of something labeled Fisker would spoil the purity of this creation, would make it definitively un-Fisker.
The compactness of this corporation begets agility. We mentioned the lead time for product creation – 7 months, ready to drive. This is, we are assured, a repeatable number. This is a significant number, as it allows great response to quickly changing market demands. The market turns this way, Fisker turns to follow. This is a company with a steering input to output ratio of maybe 2:1. How do they do this!?! It is more than lean operation, more than ability to make quick decisions and run with them. There is still more to tell…but later, later.
The Tramonto, and the Latigo CS coupe which will follow, will sell in very, very low quantities. Why? Because only 125-150 of each will be produced. Is that enough to sustain a company? Aston Martin, from where Henrik most immediately comes, is famously not profitable, even they make more than 125 cars per year, and they have big brother Ford backing them up. How does Fisker stay profitable? By being smart. He has good relations with suppliers, who worked overtime to help him speed up production. He is using mass production strategies, producing multiple examples of everything to ametorize tooling costs and spread out engineering costs for the engine tuning. He’s just running low numbers. And everything will be hand built. Henrik says his company needs to produce 75 of a given model line to be profitable.
Fisker has made a pledge to personally inspect every car that is produced. He has time, because even with both models at the height of production there will be about 20 cars completed each month. A hand built car, personally inspected by the CEO and the designer, brought to your door to make you the proud owner of a blazingly fast, utterly luxurious, rare automobile.
The Tramonto is definitely the overture to the Fisker opera, a story of passion, style and speed which is currently of indeterminate length. Of the two planned Fisker automobiles, Tramonto is at this time faster, sexier, and more fun – it is topless, whereas the Latigo Coupe Sport isn’t…at least not yet.
The Latigo CS proved itself a worthy second act for Fisker Coachbuild. The CS has great potential. Its coupe platform guarantees greater structural rigidity per given weight, which will yield better, more predictable handling. The transmission was offered with wheel-mounted gear selector paddles, and the transmission made much quicker shifts than the unit mounted in the Tramonto. The coupe certainly felt lighter, if not faster, than its convertible sibling. There is much to love about both. We would be excited at further chance to drive either...stay tuned!!!