Lei sits down with Henrik Fisker to discuss his thoughts on charging, LiDAR, solid-state batteries, AV, China, and more...
Hi everyone, Tu Le here, one-half of the China EVs & More duo. Lei and I have been brainstorming about different ways to bring you, our audience, relevant compelling content about the China EV, AV and mobility sectors. Especially now that a number of companies that we’ve tracked over the 40 or so China EVs & More episodes have become global phenomenon. So I’m very pleased to introduce to you our first ever China EVs & More MAX episode, where we bring conversations we have with special guests from the EV, AV and mobility space.
And who better to kick it off than Henrik Fisker, founder and CEO of Fisker Inc., which just unveiled the production intent SUV crossover Ocean last week at AutoMobility LA. The Ocean was one of the most anticipated debuts at the show that will be offered in three trims: the $37,499 base version powered by CATL’s LFP battery with a range of 250 miles, the $49,999 Ultra version with a range of 340 miles and the $68,999 EXTREME version with a range of 350 miles but extends to 1,500 miles thanks to an additional solar roof panel.
Lei was able to sit down with Henrik so this is where I will hand it off to him.
I first interviewed Henrik almost 4 years ago at CES 2018 in Las Vegas, when Fisker unveiled the Emotion electric super car with gullwing doors, 400-km range and LiDARs. Back then he was big on LiDARs, solid-state batteries and China when Fisker tried to work with a local partner to launch a Robotaxi called the Orbit.
I caught up with Henrik at AutoMobility LA on November 17 shortly after the Ocean reveal. Has his views on China, solid-state batteries and LiDARs changed? What is the role of China in Fisker’s global ambitions?
Here’s my conversation with Henrik.
So I’m here at AutoMobility LA and sitting in front of me is the man himself, Henrik Fisker. The last time we spoke was at CES 2018. We will go there but first about the product: charging. We haven’t talked about charging. What's your strategy on that front?
There are several things.
One is of course the vehicle itself, which we are going to announce all the details a little closer to start of production, but we have already announced the battery has really good capabilities of fast charging. So we are going to be able to upgrade it as we move into the future. I think our battery pack is very future proof.
The second part is we also have the ability to do bidirectional (charging), meaning you can actually go in and power up your house with the car. If you’ve got a fully charged vehicle, you can power your house up to 7 days depending on how much electricity you are using. And then you are always going to be able to, if you have two Fiskers and your partner is stuck somewhere without electricity, you can actually go over and charge up your partner’s parked car. I think that's really exciting.
And then finally, when it comes to the charging infrastructure, we have a deal with Electrify America, which next year will have the largest independent charging network in the U.S. So we are going to be connected. You are going to be able to see all the charging stations where they are from Electrify America. You are going to be able to go in charge and smart pay and all this type of stuff. And we also did an investment in Europe into a large charging infrastructure company called Allego. They are just going public or merging into a SPAC here shortly. We will be able to do smart charging, have all the locations on our screen. I think that the charging infrastructure is going to develop over the next couple of years into becoming as good as the gasoline infrastructure. I don't think it's going to take that long. We're in full speed. And I think ultimately, we already are seeing that pretty much all the different charging groups adopting the same plug, the CCS plug. I even hear rumors that some of the last other EV companies are going to adopt that plug as well. Ultimately, we want a charging infrastructure that is the best solution for the customer.
The best solution for the customer is that every single charging station is available for everybody with the same plug, just like the gasoline infrastructure. You wouldn't want a gasoline station, which were GM gasoline station and another one was Ford gasoline station, that would be really annoying for the customer. So therefore, I think ultimately, we're going to see the customers are going to be able to go to any charging station and charge your car quick with smart pay. You don't have to get out your credit card or swipe anything. I expect that will happen over the next 2-3 years.
So the strategy is to use third party charging network and no plans to set up your own network?
I think it’s wrong just like it’s wrong for carmakers to have built their own gas stations and make them exclusive to (their customers). It would be really annoying for the customer. There are also customers that own two different brands and now you have to go to two different charging stations. It just doesn't make any sense. Obviously, a company like Tesla had to go out and build charging stations because there was none. They didn't have a choice, but today we have choices. We have a new infrastructure bill in the U.S. which is going to support build out of charging infrastructure. So I don't think any company any more needs to do that themselves. I think it's a waste of money and time. And I don't think it is a good idea for any customer to have to find out who owns which charging station, where can I go. In my view that makes no sense. That's not how we are going to get to a total electric future.
If Tesla opened up their super charger network, would you be open to charge at their super charger network?
Well. Of course. Anywhere. I think it's really about customers. We should focus on what is best for customers and what is best for driving mass electrification.
I don't care who owns the charging station and I don't think the customers care. Just like the customer doesn't care who owns the gas station. They never cared about that.
That’s a good point. All right enough about charging. So back to the Ocean. We are exactly 365 days from SOP. What are the next major milestones that you have planned that you can share?
We are working with Magna. We have very solid plan for start of production. So far I think we're the only EV company on the planet who hasn't allowed a delay in start of production. We are in a very good path. In fact, we have on such a good path that already by the end of March next year, a few months from now, we will start building at Magna two vehicles per day. And there are startups out there that have announced start of production and they have built maybe just one or two vehicles a day. We will do that way ahead of start of production, because our start of production really means that now we're really ramping up
We're planning to build 40,000-50,000 vehicles in 2023 and well over 100,000 vehicles of just the Ocean in 2024.
Our next milestone is getting started with building two vehicles a day at Magna at the end of March. I think we have many different internal milestones. We are starting a marketing campaign shortly that we will slowly ramp up. We don't want to spend all our money on marketing right now because we still are quite a while until we start delivering cars. But I could imagine that it's possible for us to start delivering cars before our start of production. We could do that. That will be the first in the world, that we could actually get out there earlier than anticipated.
That would be out of expectations. So that would be good. All right. Let's go back to CES 2018. If you remember our conversation, the three topics: China, you had that mobility thing that was planned; solid-state batteries; and LiDAR. Fast forward today. What are your views? Have your views changed? You were big on solid-state batteries.
My views have changed a lot because when you innovate and create something new, you don't know exactly where you are going to end up because you are making innovation, you are inventing something new.
I think there was a lot of people at the time that thought that in 2020 last year, we were going to have RoboTaxis drive around and make money for people, or we were going to have self-driving taxis and all that. That never materialized because as we moved forward with these technologies, we realized there was more obstacles than we saw. And “we” meaning the car industry generally, All these predictions kind of fell through, and we are now realizing it will probably be many years before we have Level 5, at least another car generation away.
So that's in the topic of LiDAR and self-driving and all that. We do have a very advanced system now, which is state of the art in which is a production system with a 4D radar.
Is that from Magna?
It’s not from Magna but it’s from another company. But we did the system with Magna. The point here is that we have mastered the technology and will do some really unique things that we didn't even think we could do with ADAS. We are planning something, we haven't announced it yet. We'll talk about that later. So that's on the ADAS side. When it comes to batteries at the time, we were very, very excited about the potential of solid-state battery. In the meantime, after I spent a lot of time working on it, I realized that the difference between developing something like solid state battery and building pretty much anything else is enormous.
And the reason is that if you, for example, built a ten-story house, you're 90% done. You know you only have one story left and you know exactly how long that's going to take you because you knew how long it took you to build the first nine stories.
So the remaining 10% you are fully clear. When you are in solid-state battery when you get to 90% you are super excited and you don't know how difficult the last 10% is, and they turned out to be a lot more difficult than you could ever imagine. Because you actually have to invent stuff. So my personal opinion is that we aren't goin to see any solid-state batteries in any cars, in the next generation of vehicles.
Now, we didn't know that at the time because we were trying to figure things out. I personally do not really believe that we are anywhere close for solid-state battery to materialize into production vehicles. I’m not talking about labs and other stuff.
So that one for me is out the door, and we were very open about it in 2020 already. When we showed the first Fisker Ocean we already announced in January we were off that and this is not something we want to spend any more money on. We are using NMC and now we have also started to use LFP in the base car. That's where we are on this subject. And then the third subject was China.
They're related because I counted 12 models are coming out (in the China smart EV space) with LiDARs and there's two LiDARs, three LiDARs, four LiDARs. So China speed maybe you can talk about your views on that.
My view on China I think was correct at the time. I felt that China will be driving electrification and will be the biggest market for electrification and I think they still are. And it's clear and they're I think going full speed ahead with electrification. I think that again, LiDARs and self-driving cars, I think is super exciting for people who's in that environment fiddling around with it.
I personally don't think that there is a lot of value in consumer like normal consumer vehicles, maybe in long-haul trucks, maybe in buses that go from one airport to another, that was what we were looking at with our small shuttle (the Orbit). So I think in those areas that can be some value, because you have to be in a controlled environment. The real issue that everybody is figuring out is that we don't live in a controlled, perfect environment when it comes to traffic, we still have potholes we can't fix. We still have people who cross the road not where they're supposed to. We still have children may be running over the road. We still have a FedEx truck stopping in the middle of a one directional street. And we're going to have to break the law to pass it if we want to keep up going. And those are all the type of things that just makes it really difficult to actually create all these self-driving vehicles when you're talking about having a car without a steering wheel.
Now that doesn't mean we can’t have a whole bunch of really cool self-driving features or whatever you want to call them that can enhance safety, enhance entertainment in the vehicle, enhance some annoyances, etc. But clearly we are far away, as I said, for having L5 vehicle and I don't think it's going to happen in China in the next few years neither in consumer vehicles and randomly everywhere.
In the most recent earnings call, you talked a little bit about the China entity and CATL, can you share some light on these two fronts? Was that deal (with CATL) reached very recently or has the conversation been long?
No, we have worked with CATL for a very long time, because we have already prototype packs and everything else.
So that's something we have worked with them for a very long time. We have just obviously came to the final sort of deal term, signed the deal and announced that. And we have had a great relationship with CATL. I personally think they probably have the best batteries in the world right now. We have tested the latest technology, they are in our packs. I think they are by far the leader both in technology and pricing. We are super happy for that relationship. I hope we find ways to expand it further into the future.
And then the product plans in China?
There's many possibilities. I think China for me, we eventually are going to have to go and manufacture vehicles in China because you got to be in that market manufacturing if you want to have a big volume. The good news is that Magna already has a joint venture over there where they manufacture vehicles. So I think it'll be relatively easy for us to get into China. We might import some vehicles in the beginning to build the brand and that could happen as early as the end of 2023.
The Ocean, what's the percentage? Let's say, 95 %, 90 % done in terms of the final vehicle.
So this vehicle is made out of the real production data, but a lot of this is Pre-production tools, handmade stuff. So right now we're in the middle of the tooling phase and testing phase, refinement phase. And then we are building vehicles where you start finetuning the vehicles, setting them up correctly in terms of the ADAS systems, the ride and handling. All that has to be fine-tuned. And then you fine-tune the manufacturing process, so you can go to full high volume very efficiently. So that's what's going on next year.
All right. I wish you the best of luck!
Thank you very much.
So there you have it, my second face to face interview with Henrik.
Though his views have changed quite a bit since the last time we spoke nearly 4 years ago, his confidence, exuberance and provocativeness in what he’s trying to achieve have not. His positions on charging strategy, solid-state batteries, LiDARs and autonomous vehicles are pretty clear-cut, and he seems to be quite confident of getting to that Job 1 for the Ocean on schedule.
The China factor for Fisker right now is obviously the LFP battery cell and pack from CATL for the base version of the Ocean, and it looks like it’s being highly touted by Henrik. In the longer term the question is whether Fisker is willing to enter the Chinese market and eventually manufacture there especially considering its relationship with Foxconn and Magna which are both active in China, and whether it can compete at all with some of the already established Chinese smart EV startups there. It’s probably too early to talk about that.
For now, all eyes are on Fisker to get to that Job 1 and prove to the doubters that its so-called “light asset” model is viable.
Lei and I plan to share more of conversations with the men & women around the world moving the EV/AV mobility sectors forward as part of this China EVs & More MAX series. Some folks will be instantly recognizable but some will just be people doing amazing in the space that we think deserve to be highlighted. Don’t worry though, Lei and I will continue to host our live weekly China EVs & More Twitter Spaces room that summarizes that week’s most important news coming out of the China EV, AV and mobility space. For those that can’t catch the live show, you can find the China EVs & More pod on all major platforms or whereever you normally get your podcasts. As EV adoption reaches its global tipping point, it will be even more important to stay updated on everything that’s happening here.
Lei and I are confident that China EVs & More is the best resource to do that. Until next time, as always, thanks for listening!