Fisker Automotive, a “tiny” California car company specializing in hybrid luxury vehicles backed by former U.S. vice-president Al Gore, has received a US$529 million loan from the government, the Wall Street Journal reports. The California company is developing the US$89,000 Karma, a four-door, plug-in, electric hybrid with a lithium-ion battery slated to achieve 100 MPG fuel efficiency. Its audience, says car designer Henrik Fisker, is people like Gore (who has placed a down payment for one): wealthy, environmentally enlightened drivers looking for an eco-P.C. ride. Production is scheduled to start in December, with about 15,000 vehicles a year expected to hit the U.S. market starting next June. Already, the critics have weighed in. “This is not for average Americans,” said Leslie Paige, a spokeswoman for Citizens Against Government Waste, an anti-tax group in Washington. “This is for people to put something in their driveway that is a conversation piece. It’s status symbol thing.” Fisker counters that the Karma will provide a prototype that will trickle to the masses, comparing the Karma to flat screen TVs that once cost $25,000.