I have had several opportunities to spend time with renowned designer Henrik Fisker. Over a period that spans over a decade, I have spoken to him about various automotive ventures he has launched. Earlier this year we had a chance to catch up again at the Consumer Electronic Show in Las Vegas. Henrik was at his booth for his car company Fisker, Inc which he leads with his wife Dr. Geeta Gupta-Fisker. At the booth, he had his latest marvel the Fisker Ocean on display. It features sustainable products and a lot of integrated technologies. Henrik has partnered with Magna Steyr this time to handle the manufacturing of the Ocean. His follow-up vehicle the Pear will be manufactured in the Old GM Factory in Lordstown, Ohio. Manufacturing duties for that vehicle will be done by one of the largest consumer electronics manufacturers in the world, Foxconn. They are most notable as a manufacturer of the iPhone for Apple. It is always delightful to share insights with Henrik and this interview did not disappoint. Our dialogue follows.
Damola Idowu: So, the great Henrick Fisker. Tell us a little bit about this Ocean Vehicle you’re debuting here at CES.
Henrik Fisker: Well, so electric SUV that we start delivering this year November, it’s got the world’s longest range in its class up to 350 miles, it’s got amazing power train up to 550 horsepower, four-wheel drive, torque vectoring, zero to 163.9 seconds, so it’s super fun to drive. Actually, took it out the desert, took it up to over a hundred miles hour, a lot of fun.
But the whole idea here was, ‘How can we mix sports car design with SUV design?’. So, we did a lot of cool stuff, like really wide track large 22 inch wheels. You can also get 20 inch wheels if you want to go a little more off-road, but the design was very important for me to really get this sort of sports car feeling into an SUV, because nobody’s really done before.
Damola Idowu: Now, you’re talking about the design, and there’s a lot of very creative things about this particular design. First of all, you and your partner, Magna Steyr, you’re using sustainable products for your interior, it’s all vegan. Talk about that. What made you think about that in design?
Henrik Fisker: Well, you know, Magna are contract manufacturers, so what’s very important there is of course that we can source all the things, and they can build the things for us, but we’ve designed the interiors specifically with sustainability in mind. So, not only do we have entire tier being vegan, but we use carpets that’s made from recycled plastic bottles, some of the materials are using recycled t-shirts for example, so everything is super sustainable. Even on the exterior, we are actually using recycled carbon fiber as part of the wheel. So, sustainability is a big deal for this vehicle. We anticipate this vehicle could be the world’s most sustainable vehicle.
Damola Idowu: And you even have solar panels on the roof. Talk about that.
Henrik Fisker: We got solar panels on the roof and that can give you up to 2000 miles a year. Nobody has really done solar panels where you actually can charge the high voltage battery, so, we can do this for this vehicle. We have to invent the special converter to be able to do that, but it’s super cool to have this. This also has the largest open roof in the world or at least one of them. When you look from inside, you can see it’s huge.
Damola Idowu: Now, we have a concept that we use for our students, which is Superhero Rap, which talks about idealism, which is your ideal self and ideal world you want to live in. So, speak about your ideal vision because you’re using a lot of sustainability and that’s actually carrying into a mass manufactured product. Talk about your idealism and what your envision transportation and mobility to be.
Henrik Fisker: Well, for me, ideally, we would like to make a completely climate neutral vehicle in terms of how it’s produced, how it’s made, all the materials. We have to set our goal to do that by 2027. It’s a tough goal, but we’re working towards it. This is the first step in this direction. You know, it costs more of course, to put a solar roof on, it costs more to put sustainable materials inside the vehicle, but it’s worth it. And for me, the ideal is to be in the future, can drive around in fully emission free and sustainable and CO2 neutral vehicles, because that way they could be a great part of our society of the future without any pollution. And that’s what we all want.
Damola Idowu: Well, you’re an exceptional businessman. This is your second start again. We’re doing your own vehicle. We spoke with your last vehicle with the ‘Fisker’ which the design you did over a decade ago is still breathtaking today. So, what were some of the lessons learned, and in this approach, you went aspac, you’re going contract manufacturing? What were some of the lessons learned?
Henrik Fisker: Well, I think contract manufacturing is a part of it, but the other part of it is raising enough money to begin with, and that’s very difficult if you try to do it privately, so we went public. We have in the meantime raised 1.6 billion. And then, also having very reliable suppliers. So, for example, we made a great deal with the world’s largest battery supplier, that’s very important. Of course the contract manufacturing with Magna, having a company that you know is going to deliver high quality vehicles right out of the gate. That’s much more difficult if you try to build your own factory and think you can build as good cars as somebody like Magna, which have done it for decades, they’re building BMWs, Toyotas Mercedeses, so we know we are going to get a high quality cars. So, that’s very important as well.
Damola Idowu: Now, you also have another large partner on Foxconn, and that concept is something very nobel. You’re gonna be building the future of mobility. So, talk about your design and thinking about, how do you look at mobility to be different than just a four wheeled transportational vehicle?
Henrik Fisker: Well, what we’re doing with Foxcon is a very radical mobility concept, so, it’s not another car, really. Of course it will be a car in terms having four wheels and drive, but we are thinking of this project in a different way. We didn’t start out by saying, “Hey, we’re going to make a vehicle that is going to be in this category”. We started out using user scenarios specifically of young people in big cities. How do they live? What do they need? What type of mobility do they need? And, how would they use this mobility? What do they put it in? How do they go about it?
So, we create this very unique mobility concept that’s going to be a car called “The PEAR”, and it stands a Personal Electric Automotive Revolution. And the idea is to really come out with something for the future. So, it’s going to look like a sexy spaceship, it’s going to be completely different, it doesn’t have either a normal trunk or a normal hatch. So, we have a lot of innovative features on this vehicle. It’ll come out in 2024. We probably won’t show it until then, because it’s so radical, they don’t want to give any of that away to our competitors.
Damola Idowu: So now, speaking about that, and again, on our concept, Superhero Rap, our students develop themselves as superhero characters and we teach them 3D modeling and design, but superheros also need their vehicle. So, what are some of the things you’re thinking about when you’re saying that it would look like a spaceship? How can you envision students in this vehicle?
Henrik Fisker: I think the way I think about a spaceship when I refer to that, I mean the sense of a super futuristic shape, futuristic technology. Like for example, the lighting, we’re looking at some new lighting technologies to put into this vehicle. In the interior we are going to have some new cool features. What’s interesting about this vehicle is going to start under $30,000, so it’s a challenge to make something super cool for that price, and that’s what we are working on right now.
I think in terms of superhero, you know, it’s all about trying to do something extraordinary, right? You’re going out of your way to create something and helping others. That’s what superhero does. And in this case, we’re trying to figure out how can we help everybody to live in a cleaner world, and that’s why the goal is to make the world’s most sustainable vehicles.
Damola Idowu: And now, this vehicle would also be produced in a re-purposed factory that used to be where GM manufactured the cruise in Lordstown. So talk about that.
Henrik Fisker: Yes. I think, you know, our first factory Magna is a CO2 neutral factory already run by hydro, and the re-purposed factory Foxcon have just bought in Ohio, again, is sustainability, we don’t have to build a new factory. But what’s cool about this factory is one of the largest in the world. It can make about half a million vehicles a year. So, hopefully we are really successful. Every single car out there from us Would be a lot of fun.
Damola Idowu: Yes. And then, now, so in this venture, your wife is actually your partner. Speak about that, and the dynamics of having your wife with you, who’s very exceptional in her own right, very qualified. And how is that and having your partner sound off with you?
Henrik Fisker: Yes. We are two very different personalities in terms of what we concentrate. I’m very creative, concentrating on the development, the creative, the PR, the marketing. She is very mathematicals. She comes from financial back background. She is the CFO and the chief operating officers. So, under hers, everything to do with operations, HR, IT, finance, so, it’s worked really well. I mean, it probably can be difficult, but in our case, it’s working really well. And the good news is, we can kind of work 18 hours a day, but still see each other.
Damola Idowu: Yes.
Henrik Fisker: If you work 18 hours a day and your partner does something else, that’s very rare you get to see each other. We work seven days a week too.
Damola Idowu: So, that helps the relationship too?
Henrik Fisker: That helps the relationship for sure.
Damola Idowu: So, as far as thinking about the future, what kind of tools can you envision that will get people prepared to be able to work with Fisker in the future as far as design tools and explore?
Henrik Fisker: Well, I think you’ve got to go to a recognized design school in automotive design. You’ve got to have that degree. You’ve got to have to spend some time, I would say, in 3D modeling in clay in small scale models to understand surfacing, to understand the three dimensions. Because you know, the car is probably one of the most complicated shapes, because it has to work in three dimensions. You know, you look at the car from this angle, you walk around, the highlight has to work. You’re looking at the proportions in terms of the tail latch, in terms of the wheels to the body relation, the relation of the windows, all these is to do with proportions and it takes a long time to get a good eye for that, you’re going to have some talent for it as well. But if you spend a lot of time on it, really try to understand proportions, even looking at some of the older vehicles that got very famous, like a [inaudible 09:31-32] or why is it so famous? ‘What is it with the proportion of this car that made it such a beautiful looking car?’
One of the most difficult things for designers is to actually be more minimalistic. We all love to put a lot of ideas into one car, but the real, I think essence of good design apart from the proportions is to be able to actually clean up your own design, step back, be tough on yourself and don’t overdo the design with too many lines and too many things, and then you find the harmony, that perfect harmony between the different graphics as well, how they line up with each other. So, there’s many things that might take some years to learn, but the start is you got to go to a really good design school, you’ve got to be able to translate your ideas, what’s in your head onto a piece of paper and into three dimensions.
Damola Idowu: And then my other question too is that, so as mobility changes, what other skills should people look at in their design?
Henrik Fisker: Well, I think, yes, mobility are changing, but I think a good design is a good designer. And if you can adapt whether you’re making a vehicle that is going to be used as a ride hailing, ride sharing, an autonomous vehicle, you know, we aren’t going to have cars for private people that have steering wheels for many, many years, that was a little bit of a quick fad, and now it’s sort of gone off again, so, we still need to design a car where people are sitting in it, interacting with. There’s a big difference between exterior design and interior design. Normally you choose either of the two because there’s two very different ways of designing. The exterior is all about that initial wow factor, and then the long lasting timeless design. The interior is very involved in ergonomics. It’s really a design which have multiple product parts in it that all needs to fit together, so it’s a lot more complex.
Damola Idowu: So now, talk about autonomous, because you just kind of hinted on that. What kind of autonomous features and how do you see the timeline in integrating level three or level four?
Henrik Fisker: So, we don’t look at levels. And I think level five, we are 10 years or more away from having that, and that’s a fully autonomous vehicle that can drive itself in any condition. It may even be more than 10 years, we may never have a vehicle. Now, in terms of autonomous features, what we have decided is we really want to focus on the safety aspect. So, today we’re showing for example, that we will have the world’s first digital radar 4D radar in our vehicle and standard in all our vehicles. And what that does is it sees much better through heavy rain. It sees better for example, if you drive in a tunnel in New York, in Europe, through tunnels in the mountains, et cetera, so it enhances the safety for these extreme situations that we hope you never incur, but when you do the autonomous system can fail. So, in this case, we’re enhancing that we’ll be the first in the world to have that digital radar and that will enable us to enhance the safety around our autonomous features.
Damola Idowu: So, is that going to be available on the ocean and the new vehicle?
Henrik Fisker: Yes.
Damola Idowu: Wow. So, you’re debuting that, which is 3D to be able to see through increment, which also is part of what causes…?
Henrik Fisker: 4D.
Damola Idowu: 4D?
Henrik Fisker: Actually, radars today and cameras, they have a difficulty in, for example, distinguishing between a bicycle or a motorcycle or between a person and a large animal. In this case, we can do this distinction much better with this digital radar. And we are showing it over here in our platform here. So, we are showing these radars that you see over here, the big black boxes. There’s five of them in vehicle.
Damola Idowu: Wow. So, in conclusion, what would you say to inspire the next generation of designers?
Henrik Fisker: Well, I think in my world, I think what’s really inspiring is if young people can come up with the next generation of super sustainable vehicles which still looks good. You know, we had this issue with electric cars when they first came out, they kind of looked doey and dorky, and nobody wants to drive a dorky car. So, whenever you think about a new futuristic design, it needs to look good, it needs to be exciting, it needs to be better than what we have today.
Damola Idowu: Thank you so much Henrik.