The failure of Fisker Automotive is well documented, as is the current success of Tesla Motors.  Both are startup automakers.  Both focus on breakthrough technology.  Both deliver a type of vehicle that the world has never seen before.  So, why is one failing while the other continues to rack up achievements and to hit milestones that point towards continued success?

Fisker Karma

Fisker Karma

The answer isn't entirely obvious, but as Christian Science Monitor points out, it could be a case of form versus function.

For Fisker, form comes first.  The Karma is a visually stunning automobile, but design alone doesn't make for an extraordinary machine.  Fisker's problem may well lie in the automaker's inability to correctly implement technology (as is evidenced in several negative reviews of the Karma, in particular how its EREV system is nowhere near as refined as the one found in the Chevy Volt).

Beyond technology, Fisker had issues with production quality, which led to a whole host of reviews calling the Fisker more a prototype-level vehicle than a production-ready automobile.

Consumer Reports Had to Have its Faulty Fisker Karma Towed Almost Immediately After Purchasing It.

Consumer Reports Had to Have its Faulty Fisker Karma Towed Almost Immediately After Purchasing It.

But perhaps Fisker's biggest struggle was in figuring out how to manufacture the Karma at a site it doesn't even own.  This meant that Fisker had to outsource virtually every component that went into its Karma and that's a challenge even for established automakers.  Supplier shortages and quality control became major issues and the faulty batteries from A123 Systems only highlighted this extensive problem.

It's hard to deny that the Karma is one of today's most attractive automobiles, but when what's on the inside falls short, design alone in today's competitive industry just isn't enough.

For Tesla Motors, the story is the opposite.

Tesla Model S

Tesla Model S "Skateboard" of Electric Components and Vehicle Platform

Tesla focused first on perfecting its electric powertrain.  Once that was perfect, Tesla fitted it into a Lotus Elise.  While we'd say the Elise is stylish, Tesla didn't waste time designing it.  Instead, Tesla focused on advancing its core electric technology as Roadster sales helped to keep the automaker afloat.

That core technology was perfected before Tesla set out on the arduous task of designing a vehicle from the ground up.  The result was the Model S.  Sure, it's visually attractive to most consumers, but the real beauty of the Model S is underneath.  It works and aside from a few issues here and there, most Model S owners have few complaints.  In fact, almost all of the reviews out there praise the job Tesla did on the Model S.  It performs as a production vehicle should and its build quality is right up there with established makes.  Almost never is there a complaint about the Model S electric powertrain, which is Tesla's bread and butter.

If the Model S wasn't somewhat attractive, then we'd say "Don't judge a book by its cover" or "It's what's on the inside that counts."

As for the Fisker Karma, a fitting phrase might be that its "Beauty is only skin deep."

There's still plenty of time left for Tesla to fail, but the automaker seems to have taken the right path for success

via Christian Science Monitor