Friday, April 27, 2012

A delivery

Minus one Audi, plus one Fisker.

I took delivery of one Fisker Karma 2012 EcoChic today, in Inferno red and with the Earth Tri-Tone interior trim.  Here it is, albeit in the twilight:

This is a beautiful car indeed.  As a new company and brand, they are clearly off to a great start with the Karma.  Of course it's a very different beast from the R8.  It's not a race car, but a rather more of a GT.  The externals are eye-catching, but the interior is like a cross between a starship and a cozy modern lounge.  I don't think I've sat in anything as comfortable actually.  Every new car is a new experience of course, but I have a special feeling about this one.

Driving off in a brand new R8 was a big thrill, mostly because of the shock of the raw power, but also you have to really adapt your driving style to a true thoroughbred racer.  You discover things like the car's unwillingness to actually turn at slow speeds, due to the absolutely epic wide, essentially 'slick', wheels.  Driving off in the Karma, the essential feeling is the 'spaceship'.  The Karma is no slouch, but of course unfamiliarity of the car's dimensions and operations demands care.  The sensory experience is just totally smooth power with comfort and a strange quietness.  You can just make out the external "tron" safety sound, but the car is so well insulated that it sounds very far off with the windows up.

When you buy a car, you are also starting a relationship with the manufacturer and the dealership.  It will be interesting to see how I feel about everything (Karma, Fisker and Fisker of Vancouver) after a few months and years, but as most relationships do this is off to a good start with the 'honeymoon' period.

As a computer/software guy, I'm really hopeful that Fisker will turn out to be the Apple of modern electric automobiles.  I'm sure many other companies aspire to be something similar, even if not exactly in those terms.  Clearly Fisker want to make a positive and differentiated impact as soon as possible.  Referrals and recommendations from us 'early adopters' in the first few years of their commercial life is surely going to be very important to the company.

On the computer/software subject, I'd really like this car to be more like an Apple too in the sense of getting regular (or at least occasional) software updates with features.  Now, more and more functions in any manufacturer's vehicles are in fact managed by computers, but this is more evident than ever in the Karma.  Fisker has eschewed the traditional myriad dials and switches in favour of one big multi-function haptic touch screen.  This clearly has pros and cons.  On the downside, physical controls are complete natural for people, especially for people who are probably concentrating on driving and need to find an operate a control quickly and safely.  On the upside, a complete virtual set of controls provides the opportunity to change the interface and adapt it with new features.  I have no idea whether Fisker have any motivation or intentions to do this, but it would be both cool and innovative once they have their initial feature set completely stabilized.  If the hardware is general enough (including things like bluetooth and USB linkage and comms), then it may even be possible to offer things like iPhone and iPad apps that integrate into the Karma's systems - that would be truly exciting.

Now, in the interests of honest recording of my experiences, there are already a few minor issues to note in this blog.  I will naturally be updating the blog with news as things change with fixes as I'm told they will.

First, while having my orientation walkthrough of the vehicle, it was obvious that the AM radio reception wasn't terribly good.  Now, I do still listen to a local AM news channel habitually for my morning drive, so this isn't completely academic for me.  I was told that the reception wasn't great because we were in the showroom at the time, but in fact it's pretty bad outside too - a lot of general static suggesting a less than wonderful AM antenna configuration and break-in noise from the electric propulsion, which isn't that surprising when you consider just how much juice is coursing through some cables back there.  It could be that the AM antenna isn't connected quite properly, but equally this experience might just be all that one can reasonable expect in this kind of vehicle.

The next issue had to do with the touch screen display.  While cycling through some of the configuration screens to set up Bluetooth and some preferences, it became clear that some of the screen textures like the shadows and other accents were rendering incorrectly/corruptly.  As a software guy you instantly recognise this sort of thing as likely being a texture copy to the display memory of some incorrect memory location that was supposed to hold the texture, but instead is just some random other memory content.   Well, I made this observation before having to leave to do some of the inevitable paperwork when taking delivery of a new car.  When I returned I was told that a power cycle (lock the vehicle, wait a minute or two, then unlock) had cleared the problem.  Clearly a minor bug though.

Some display texture corruption - note speckles in the selected Vancouver option 

Finally, and perhaps most alarming (whether or not this is deserved), the engine warning light is currently displayed in my car.  I'm told that this is nothing to worry about and will be fixed in an upcoming software update.  Watch this space.

Naughty engine warning light

I am compelled to end on a high note though.  Perhaps that's an emotional need and the confirmation bias hormones must be coursing through my veins by now ;-)  But no, this car really feels different in so many good and exciting ways.  To summarize, here are the aspects of the experience that so far have given me the little spine tingles of new-owner joy:

  • The lavish comfort that this car exudes in the cabin.  
  • The solid, smooth, quiet but eager ride.  Quite unlike anything else I've ever experienced.
  • The audio cues and feedback.  Someone has gone to great length to think about the sounds that welcome you to the cabin and that play while the system is starting up and as feedback as you use the controls.  These are gentle and musical and very 'starshippy'.  They put me in a good mood and I don't think I'm going to tire of them.  They seem to exactly fit with the character of the car.
  • The beautiful dash and display.  I haven't seen this in all ranges of ambient light yet, and I think that maybe the speedo could do with a digital readout to supplement the analogue display for accuracy.  However, these are again a lovely piece of design IMHO.
  • Even the central console/tunnel, which is only there for the entirely practical reason that it covers the hummongous battery running down the middle of the car, seems to provide a lounge-like air.  It reminds me of the central space in a Hummer, but it's the right height as an armrest and its beautifully upholstered, along with controls, storage and cupholders.  
  • The design of the illuminated PRND 'pyramid' and the colours that briefly shoot from it over the battery as you change modes. 
  • The design of the doors, with soft upholstery and the motorized, push-button activated door opening mechanism.


So, that's it for this delivery-day addition.  The car is currently charging for the first time from its 'convenience charger' in the garage and I shall find out what it feels like to drive it into the underground parking at work for the first time tomorrow.  That should be exciting as I still haven't acquired any sense of its dimensions over the smaller R8!

One last thing.  I ordered the wall mounted 240v garage charger today too.  That's a shipment from the US, but hopefully will only be a few days in getting here.  BC has a rebate scheme for EV chargers that has to be applied for separately (unlike the vehicle rebate that is applied at purchase time).  Clearly, the ability to charge the vehicle in about half the time of the 110v charger will be great and probably a practical necessity if you really would like to attempt running a vehicle 100% from electrical power only.

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