The 1800 Fisker Karma plug-in hybrid sports cars that were produced by Fisker Automotive prior to the Anaheim, CA automaker’s Chapter 11 bankruptcy are highly coveted by General Motors’ former Vice Chairman of Product Development Bob Lutz.
“If only 10% of those owners decide to convert, that’s a volume of 180 cars for us,” Lutz, co-owner of VL Automotive, said during a Jan. 14 press conference at the 2014 North American International Auto Show (NAIAS) in Detroit. "And believe me, VL Automotive--organized as we are with very little staff and very low fixed cost--180 cars a year would be a very nice volume for us."
After stripping electrified components from the Fisker Karma plug-in hybrid, VL Automotive workers would re-create the luxury sports car as the supercharged V8-powered VL Destino.
Gilbert Villarreal, VL Automotive Co-owner, President and CEO, said the VL Destino is edging closer to being in customer hands. “We’re now at the tail end of certification, and we’ll start delivery before June,” he told Automotive Engineering.
Creating the VL Destino includes removal of the Karma’s two 120-kW electric motors, its 20.1 kW·h lithium-ion battery pack, a turbocharged 2.0-L Ecotec 4-cylinder gasoline engine, and various electronics.
The original Karma weighed 5200 lbs (2359 kg). After removing hybrid-related parts and replacing the 9-gal (34-L) fuel tank with a 20-gal (76-L) fuel tank, the 124.4-in (3160-mm)-wheelbase car weighs 4100 lb (1860 kg).
That weight reduction necessitates other vehicle alterations.
“It was really built to handle and sustain 5200 pounds,” said Villarreal. "But at 1100 pounds lighter, if there weren’t suspension adjustments the car would sit about four inches higher. We had to re-do the suspension and calibrations as well as redesign the brakes so it could handle the higher speeds."
The car’s top speed was rated at 135 mph (217 km/h), but the VL Destino uses a 6.2-L Eaton four-lobe roots-type supercharged LS9 V8 with a power output rated at 638 hp (476 kW) at 6500 rpm and 604 lb·ft (819 N·m) at 3800 rpm. The engine mates to a six-speed automatic transmission. “The goal is to hit 195 to 200 miles per hour. So far in road testing at the track, we’ve taken it up to 175,” said Villarreal.
According to Lutz, the Destino cars shown at the 2013 NAIAS press conference were not production-intent models. “Last year we had Corvette engines in the cars, but they were cobbled together and they weren’t fully engineered," said Lutz. "The cooling hadn’t been worked out; braking, suspension, and steering hadn’t been worked out. That’s all done now. These cars [the two VL Destino cars at the 2014 NAIAS press conference] for all intents and purposes are ready to go.”
Converting the rear-wheel-drive Karma also entails body modifications via new front and rear fascias, a new hood, a new trunk with spoiler, and a composite carbon fiber roof panel to replace the solar roof panel.
“About 60% of the exterior of this car is all-new and has no relationship to the Karma or the parts suppliers for Fisker,” said Villarreal.
Molding and assembly work for the Destino will occur in Auburn Hills, MI. VL Automotive has partnered with Katzkin to provide Destino customers with customized leather interiors.
The Fisker Karma cars that were produced between 2011 and 2012 had manufacturer prices ranging from $95,900 to $116,000. VL Automotive, which Lutz describes as “America’s newest, America’s smallest, and America’s highest-priced car company,” will sell the Destino with a wristwatch included in the deal. Quipped Lutz, “You can either buy the watch and get the car for free. Or you can buy the car and get the watch for free. Either way, the price is $200,000.”