Dead Fisker Karmas: One May Be A Fluke, But Is Two A Trend?

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2012 Fisker Karma outside Tesla Motors dealership during test drive, Los Angeles, Feb 2012

2012 Fisker Karma outside Tesla Motors dealership during test drive, Los Angeles, Feb 2012

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First off, just to be clear, the photo above is NOT a dead Fisker.

It shows the 2012 Fisker Karma we road-tested three weeks ago parked at a Tesla Motors dealer in Los Angeles.

But while our Fisker was running fine that day, Consumer Reports was not so lucky this week.

The magazine bought a Fisker Karma at a dealership to test it--we can only drool with envy over their budgets--only to have it die midway through their first day of testing during a routine highway speed test.

Yes, the writeup used the inevitable pun: Bad Karma. [sigh]

It's quite rare these days, though not unheard-of, for an expensive luxury performance car to be hauled away from a road test on a flatbed truck.

But it's worrisome. Sufficiently so, in fact, that Jalopnik published a reader photo it received last week of a maroon Fisker Karma parked at curbside in Southern California with its hood up and the driver on his phone--indicating that it too had some kind of mechanical problem.

(The mystery driver doesn't appear to be Fisker owner Justin Bieber, whose car is black.)

Granted, the Fisker Karma may get more attention for its sleek lines than virtually any other car we've driven recently. So these may be isolated incidents that get noticed only because it's a Fisker.

2012 Fisker Karma EcoSport

2012 Fisker Karma EcoSport

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On the other hand, the company will say only that it's delivered a few hundred Karmas--which means the universe of cars that can fail is very, very small.

And we get a queasy feeling about the level of development and quality assurance in the Fisker Karma overall.

Over the course of our several experiences in Fiskers--we've driven it, shot video behind the wheel, driven it again, and formally reviewed it--we only had one glitch, although it was worrisome.

During our brief New York City test drive, the Karma's instrument cluster simply went blank. To fix it, we had to park the car, turn it off, and wait five minutes for it to "go to sleep." Once we restarted, the cluster rebooted itself and we could drive off--a problem Fisker said it fixed in a subsequent software upgrade.

Fisker staff put a good face on such issues--one that we're not sure is justified.

"We rely on our early customers to identify issues like this for us," Russell Datz, Fisker's director of corporate communications, said cheerfully at the time.

Equally troublesome, among the Fiskers tested by colleagues three weeks ago, the simple act of plugging an iPhone into the USB port crashed the display monitor on the console. The company says there will be a software update coming for that one, too.

2012 Fisker Karma EcoSport

2012 Fisker Karma EcoSport

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And on every Fisker we've seen, wide panel gaps yawn between the fenders and trunklid, a rubber seal bulges out of the gap between the curvaceous rear door and the adjacent fender, and the arches of the front fender and the hood edge that abuts it don't quite match.

That's not only sub-par for a $106,000 luxury vehicle, it's significant worse than any mass-market Toyota, Chevy, or Volkswagen you can buy for $20,000 today.

Quality is a very real worry for the fate of the undeniably sexy Karma, and perhaps for the larger plug-in car industry. We have to ask: Given the suspension of its DoE loans since last spring,  can Fisker survive?

As for the photo above, we swung by the local Tesla dealership during our Karma road test and shot it just for fun.

The image was subsequently used for a "Caption This" contest on Facebook by our sister site, MotorAuthority. It got several hundred entries.

We'll be announcing the winner later today. Meanwhile, in light of Fisker's travails, how would YOU caption the photo?

Leave us your thoughts in the Comments below.


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