Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

Car designer Henrik Fisker this week raised more than $1 billion for his namesake electric car company, but unlike other electric vehicle entrepreneurs attracting capital recently, making cars is not part of his plan.

Why it matters: In an industry ripe for reinvention, Fisker's aim is to become the Apple of the automotive world — a fabless manufacturer that designs and markets cool cars but farms out the production to others, avoiding the huge capital outlays and manufacturing pitfalls that have dogged Tesla for a decade.

Driving the news: On Monday, Fisker reached a deal to go public by merging with a special purpose acquisition company backed by Apollo Global Management. SPACs are an increasingly popular IPO alternative also used recently by Velodyne and Nikola to go public.

  • Proceeds from the transaction, which valued Fisker at $2.9 billion, will help bring its Fisker Ocean electric SUV to market by late 2022.

The big picture: We're on the cusp of a historic shift to electric, self-driving cars. But the burden of technology investments is overwhelming for many, requiring even the world's biggest auto giants to partner up on redundant development.

  • Meanwhile, well-funded newbies like Nikola, Rivian and Lucid Motors — none of whom have produced a single vehicle yet — are mirroring Tesla and spending heavily to set up their own factories.

What's happening: A car used to be defined by its engine. But in the electric vehicle era, batteries and electric motors will be mere commodities, predicts consulting firm KPMG.

  • Software-driven features, not hardware, will set cars apart in the future.
  • For Fisker, famous for designing sensuous cars like the Aston Martin Vantage and the BMW Z8, it represents a new business model.
  • "I forced myself to not think like a car guy for a moment," he told Axios.

The Ocean is billed as the world's most sustainable car — an affordable, premium, electric SUV with a solar roof, vegan and recycled materials throughout, and a battery range of 250 to 300 miles.

  • Its patented one-touch "California mode" lowers and slides nine glass windows and panels to open the entire cabin for an open-air feeling.
  • It'll be priced attractively, too, starting at $37,499 before federal tax credits, or $379 per month to lease.

The real innovation is Fisker's business model. Instead of developing its own electric powertrain or sinking money into a factory, Fisker is in talks with Volkswagen to use its modular EV platform and assemble Fisker vehicles at a VW plant in Europe.

  • Instead of dealerships, Fisker will sell cars online but have "brand experience centers" and pop-up locations in key markets in the U.S. and Europe.
  • Vehicle service will be outsourced, too, through Pivet, a unit of Cox Automotive.
  • The plan is for a full lineup of eight plug-in models by 2026.

What they're saying: Fisker's asset-light approach makes it easier for newcomers to break into the auto industry, said Kristin Dziczek, vice president at the Center for Automotive Research.

  • "Imagine if Tesla had done this. They have great design, but struggled mightily in manufacturing."

Flashback: In 2014, Fisker's first startup EV company, helped by a government clean-energy loan, went bankrupt, costing taxpayers $139 million.

The bottom line: With lessons learned from that failure, Fisker says he's plotting a less risky path this time around. But for all EV companies there's still loads of uncertainty about how the future will play out.

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The BMW Group said Monday that it will make sustainability "central to the company’s strategic direction" as it rolled out new climate goals and revealed fresh details about its electric lineup.

Driving the news: The German automaker said it's setting emissions targets for 2030 that apply to vehicles' "entire lifecycle," including supply chains, production and use.

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Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

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