Fisker Karma

Production-spec plug-in saloon is joined by Karma S SL-rival

Tesla isn't the only company giving electric cars the spark they need - Fisker intends to do exactly the same. The Karma plug-in hybrid saloon has been doing the motorshow rounds for exactly a year, the concept for the production model you see here in blue being unveiled at Detroit 2008.

After a round of rumours, concepts and a year of development the real roadgoing thing is here. And it's promising stuff. Like the Cadillac Converj and Tesla Roadster, it's living, driving proof that going green shouldn't be the compromising option.

It's a level above many hybrids too, and at 87,900 Dollars in the US (£60,000) it's startlingly good value when you consider the near-£100k pricetag of the Tesla. It boasts a lightweight aluminium spaceframe chassis and a bunch of technology to keep it moving: there's a rear-mounted electric motor, a bunch of lithium ion batteries (the clever battery tech from phones and laptops) longitudinally mounted in the car's floor, and a 2-litre direct injection petrol engine providing 260bhp of generating force for the motor.

The total output of the RWD Karma is 397bhp, making it good for 0-60mph in 5.8sec and a maximum of 125mph when electric and petrol are both in full swing. In 'stealth mode', i.e. battery only, these rise and fall respectively to 7.5sec and 95mph.

The tech doesn't stop there either. The roof is packed with solar panels to help charge the motors further without petrol intervention while there's regenerative braking, too. And when it finally comes down to charging it, a simple domestic plug socket will do the job.

Of course, range is often the biggest killer of green technology but the Karma shot down here either. In stealth mode it has a range of 50 miles - more than the daily commute for the vast majority of the US - returning the equivalent of 100mpg while it's at it. With all the engines and motors at work a 300-mile range is within reach. The interior also boasts animal-free materials and even the wood doesn't come from the felling of trees.

Fisker is pretty serious, too, employing its dream team of engineers and designers in the past 12 months to make sure everything is perfect. Forty retailers are planned by the end of the year to sell the car in the US with European sales to follow.

And to prove the desirability and flexibility of its plans, the company lavished the Detroit show with another debut - the Karma S, essentially a Mercedes SL-style roadster with four seats and a folding hard-top. Combined with a dance remix of California Dreamin' during the press conference, it was one of the most crowd-pleasing cars of the show. It's due to hit the roads in 2011.

Big things could await the Fisker brand. The order bank currently stands at around 1250, with the first 100 limited edition Karma's being delivered to customers in November. Sales of around 15,000 a year are planned. Current customers are reported to have come from all manner of luxury and premium cars, from the German big three to Jaguar and Range Rover.

No word on official UK sales, other than that they're being considered seriously with RHD production a possibility after 2011. There are some UK orders at the moment to be honoured with LHD Karma saloons.

There are more highlights of the Detroit motor show this way...

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