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Henrik Fisker Biography: Taking On The World With A Design Pen

How the lines of a Maserati Bora inspired one of today's most prominent car designers to take on the industry.

There’s something about the automobile that speaks to dreamers, the crazy few who feel what could be characterized as a fatal attraction to cars. These types end up dedicating their lives to the craft of putting art and technology on four wheels. Henrik Fisker is one such visionary, but unlike tech-obsessed Elon Musk and his Silicon Valley ways, Fisker had a more traditional start in the industry. Born in Denmark, Fisker had his spark of car love ignited by a Maserati Bora he saw as a young boy.

He later signed up for classes in transportation design from the Art Center College of Design in Vevey, Switzerland and like a magnet, Fisker was drawn into the famed advanced design studios at BMW Technik upon graduating in 1989 where his first assignment, the E1 electric concept car, foretold what would become his mission to supply the world with a stylish battery-powered car. It wasn’t all whisper-quiet whirring electric motors in the beginning, though. Fisker raised himself through the ranks one award-winning design at a time. During his career at BMW, Fisker was responsible for such flashy creations as the Z8 roadster produced from 1999 to 2003.

Later, after leaving his post as CEO of BMW design studio Designworks, he landed a job working at Aston Martin, which was under the wing of Ford at the time. It was there that Fisker leveled the design playing field entirely, sketching up what would eventually become a car regarded by some as the most beautiful of the modern era, the Aston Martin DB9. His contribution to the British automaker was not to be taken lightly as his designs were responsible for shaping the company’s signature look for the next two decades. Unlike his 22 year-long stay at BMW, Fisker seemingly grew bored at Aston Martin and left after only four years, much to the surprise of his colleagues.

It seemed that despite his success under the wing of two major automakers known for design superiority, Fisker wanted to go his own route and see what a company of his own could offer the world. The Danish designer had grown to love California after being based there during his tenure at Aston Martin and BMW, so he decided that Orange County should be the place to start Fisker Coachbuild as an attempt to bring back the lost art of coachbuilding with fascinating takes on Mercedes SL and BMW 6 Series coupes. His venture only lasted from 2005 to 2007, but during that time Fisker penned the initial design work for what would eventually become the Tesla Model S. Still, Fisker was not satisfied.

As a designer he had an illustrious career, but he still yearned to make an impression on the car world by becoming a multifaceted entrepreneur who could build formidable cutting-edge electric car technology and simultaneously do what he did best: put that technology into a pretty package. Drawing upon the experience of running Fisker Coachbuilding, Henrik Fisker took his company and teamed with Quantum Technologies to form Fisker Automotive in Anaheim, California, with the aim of shedding the ugly and boring transportation pod image electric cars had since cultivated. Months later, the Fisker Karma was put on display at the 2008 Detroit Auto Show in pre-production form.

It wasn’t until the next year that the production version was out as an electric vehicle with a gasoline range extender. Unfortunately, battery technology at the time meant the electric only range was 50 miles before the range extender had to take over and replenish the battery cells. The Karma unfortunately provided Henrik Fisker with one of his first major defeats in his career as a visionary car company founder and CEO. Despite a swath of public and private investors, celebrity owners like Leonardo DiCaprio, Justin Bieber, and Al Gore, as well as a stylish design and driver-oriented setup that captivated enthusiasts, fashionistas, and environmentalists alike, the Karma was killed in November of 2012.

Its death occurred just five years after the first concept had gone on display and with only 2,000 units having ever made it to customer driveways. Aside from the quality complaint issues, the usual types that plague newer automakers without the experience of mass producing cars, it was Fisker’s battery supplier, A123 Systems, that caused the downfall. After a spate of recalls, Fisker’s supplier went bankrupt and left the young automaker stranded. While this was a contributing factor, Fisker claims that he resigned from the company “due to major differences with management on strategy.” However, no success story comes without the sting of failure. Before taking another go, Fisker worked on a few other projects.

He formed a lifestyle brand named Henrik Fisker Lifestyle to celebrate all things with swooping lines and high-octane horsepower mills with clothes printed with images of his previous automotive designs. Meanwhile, VLF Automotive, a venture between, Fisker, ex-GM executive Bob Lutz, and Boeing executive Gilbert Villarreal specializes in custom built cars sporting outlandish eye-grabbing designs and more horsepower than most can handle. However, the bulk of Fisker’s focus has been on his latest company, Fisker Inc. In attempts to get another crack at his dream, Fisker has rallied up his experience, industry connections, and professionals of all types, from chemists to billionaire software engineers, to work on his latest venture.

With all of the makings of an exclusive and technology-laden car company, the Danish entrepreneur is taking a macroscopic approach to the auto industry, as many other companies are doing, by re-imagining it as a purveyor of transportation, a provider of a service rather than a producer of goods. With the all-electric EMotion already in the pipeline, Fisker is toiling around the clock to fill a tall order. Included in the list of must-have features for the fully electric EMotion is a minimum range of 400 miles per charge, double butterfly doors, and cutting edge design that prioritizes interior space afforded by an electric drivetrain as much as it does stunning aesthetics.

Even a next generation infotainment system layout that promises to do away with the awkward and unevolved species found on today’s dashboards is in the cards and will be a welcome fix. As a spiritual successor to the Fisker Karma, the EMotion will continue the theme of next-generation technology and serve as a marker of progress by featuring double butterfly doors (take that Falcon Wings) and most importantly, cutting edge graphene supercapacitors that could bring battery technology a massive leap forward. The nature of Fisker’s claims go to show how far ahead he’s planning and have a slight Muskian ring to them.

While he has the awards to back up his claims, two Time Magazine awards for Green Design and 50 Best Inventions as well as awards from motoring journals like Top Gear, Motor Trend, Automobile, and Auto Bild, the source of Fisker's inspiration seems to be a dream to change the world one line from a drafting pen at a time.

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