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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

Enlarge Photo

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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Comments (23)
  1. OMG DID CITY MOTORS HELP BUILD IT.........
     
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  2. You want a caption? False journalism. If Tesla doesn' t sue you for this, the American public should. How dare you sully the reputation of all electric drive vehicles with the one that is having the most issues. You should be ashamed of yourself. To write in this article that "Quality is a very real worry for the fate of the undeniably sexy Karma, and perhaps for the larger plug-in car industry." is unjustified when the Leaf and Volt have already proven themselves to be high in quality, and Tesla is also proven itself to be road worthy. Start up car companies are tough to make happen - the fact that Tesla is still around with journalism like this everywhere is a testament to how good they really are - and you would put an image up to tie th
     
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  3. them to the Karma, which is very bad on your part, and if Karma were to work, you would be suffering an ill fate right about now.
     
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  4. In fairness, John Voelcker has spent a lot of time defending the Chevy Volt again unjust criticism in the media. I think Voelcker has been slow to comment about the Fisker's quality problems to give them a chance to address them.

    However, it looks like Voelcker was finally motivated to write about his concerns after publicity of the Consumer Report's experience.

    As for Fisker's bad experience tainting the wider EV community, you raise a good point. Perhaps the LEAF and the Volt won't be lumped into the same mental image of the Karma in consumer's minds. But given all the bad press the Volt has (undeservedly) had recently, perhaps they will be.

    As for Tesla's quality, I agree with you on that.
     
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  5. This is a small car company issue. My experience with my Volt along with the other owner reports has the Volt in the flawless category. I think the Leaf is near flawless too. Big automakers have the resources and experience to really put their products to the test before full production. These tech glitches will be fixed and forgotten. I wish them well.
     
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  6. If you noticed the only two cars gathering bad press for plug-in cars at the moment are the so called extended range cars. I wish GM and Fisker had stuck to calling them plug-in hybrids, which they both did when these cars were both in development.
     
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  7. Dare I point out the "bad press" that is Tesla's "bricking" issue. I know, I know, it is not a really issue. But still bad press.
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  8. @John, you really seem to ahve shifted views in the last couple of weeks. Now, the Tesla bricking issue isn't "really an issue." Seriously? A basic concern that Tesla ignored while other OEMs took care of it.

    Even the lowly Buick LaCrosse mild hybrid can sit for a year or two without a charge and not completely die.

    Supporing Tesla overall doesn't mean pretending that they didn't screw up when they did. It's a relatively small issue but one that there's also no excuse for it making into a production vehicle, either.

    Fix the design issue, don't just tell your customers to read a manual, especially when EVs are relatively new and your competitors don't seem to have the same problem. Didn't you write the same thing?
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  9. @ John, yes the bricking caused bad press, but it was the owner who was at fault. And to be honest I don't think the bad press the Volt has attracted is fair either. But the Volt got the bad press started, Fisker's continuing issues have kept it going, and so any little problem like Tesla's is going to get blown way out of proportion. Somewhat in the same way recalls now receive extra attention after Toyota's unintended acceleration.
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  10. There are more comments in this thread
  11. I drive a Volt. I would be very hesitant to drive a Karma regularly, even though the car would appear to be an upgrade.

    Why? Because there is a full infrastructure supporting the Volt... and the car is very well vetted because of the resources of GM and shared parts with other cars (like Cruze).

    A startup is OK in software... but not in a car. Better to wait at this point.
     
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  12. When I hear of Fisker's quality issues, I think back to the launch of the Tesla Roadster and try to recall similar issues. Although there was some problems with loose bolts and a few software issues, Tesla seems to have done a lot better. Is this Lotus doing a better job than Valmet?
     
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  13. Gotta ask the question - Why no mention of the panel gaps or iPhone crash in the initial write up?
     
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  14. Those mentions were in the full 2012 Fisker Karma review, here:
    http://www.thecarconnection.com/overview/fisker_karma_2012
     
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  15. That's what I get for reading the short review ;-)
     
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  16. It's funny that the article mentions the body panel gap between the trunk lid and the fenders because I noticed that poor fit aswell and being that I was at dealer who also sold Aston Martins I thought "you wouldn't see that on an Aston Martin". I also noticed where the front bumper comes to a point between the headlight and the hood that the point stuck up so much I could get my finger under it. My only concern with the Karma is as I became more and more interested in buying one for myself the more I started noticing that the car had a collection of minor flaws that just didn't seem right on a car costing six figures. I think Fisker spent to much time on image and not enough time on engineering.
     
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  17. Caption:

    Will trade my Karma for a Modes S! Deal?
     
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  18. My title would be "birds of a feather, flock together... especially dead ducks."
    But my question, as an ex-auto OEM project mgr, is; do the tires rub on the fenders when turning into a sloped driveway? or coming out of a sloped parking structure over slight curb into the street. Fisker is a designer and was not going to let anyone "compromise" his design. I personally do not see enough clearance for the tires in any sort of turning and bumping situation. Maybe this is why the fenders don't fit. I can not beleive they leave the factory that way?
     
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  19. @Richard: We experienced no tire rubbing at all during our test drive. But Fisker engineers did say there's "limited" suspension travel, and the entire car crashed substantially in certain types of deep potholes at certain speeds--which would back up the notion of limited compliance.
     
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  20. "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."

    So in other words, it's like a 1980s GM. The kind of car Honda and Toyota nearly put into oblivion.
     
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  21. Sort of strange that Fisker didn't at least try and spend a good amount of time lining up the body panals on a $105,000 car. Also this thing is basically hand built and thats why it is bound to have more imperfections on body panal alignment then the mass produced robotically assembled production cars that we buy from Toyota, Honda and Ford
     
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  22. This is a perfect example of old school luxury vs new automation. Hand-built used to mean perfection. Although body panels on older luxury cars were not high tolerance like to-days cars, there was a lot of body work done on the line to make everything fit perfectly. This was time consuming and expensive, but what you expected in a premium car.
     
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