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Sandy Flood Fire Followup: Fisker Karma Battery Not At Fault

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2012 Fisker Karma during road test, Los Angeles, Feb 2012

2012 Fisker Karma during road test, Los Angeles, Feb 2012

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It's becoming an awkward, unfortunate routine.

Somewhere, somehow, a Fisker Karma catches fire, and the company rushes in its inspectors and engineers to analyze the incident.

A few days later, Fisker Automotive issues a statement explaining that the battery of the range-extended electric car isn't at fault, and that some other cause led to the fire.

In the latest case, Fisker analyzed the October 30 fire that destroyed 16 Karmas when Hurricane Sandy flood waters receded from New Jersey's Port Newark shipping docks.

[UPDATE: Dow Jones VentureWire reported that in fact Fisker lost more than 300 cars in total at the port, with a value of roughly $30 million. The loss is covered by insurance.]

In a statement last night, the company said it has concluded--after "a thorough investigation witnessed by NHTSA representatives"--that the cause was residual salt damage inside a Vehicle Control Unit submerged in seawater for several hours.

Corrosion from the salt caused a short circuit in the unit, which led to a fire when the Karma's 12-Volt battery fed power into the circuit.

Heavy winds then spread that fire to other Karmas parked nearby. But, the factory said, there were no explosions, as had been incorrectly reported.

The company ruled out the cars' 20-kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery packs as a cause of, or even a contributing factor to, the blaze.

(That battery pack was the subject of a Fisker recall earlier this year, when now-bankrupt battery maker A123 Systems said its Michigan plant had produced defective cells.)

Fisker called the control unit "a standard component found in many types of vehicles," and noted that several other "non-hybrid cars from a variety of manufacturers" caught fire in separate incidents after the flood waters receded.

Thousands of vehicles from many different makers were destroyed by the flooding at the huge vehicle-handling facility, which left cars submerged in 5 to 8 feet of salty water for several hours.

In August, the factory concluded that a fire which badly damaged a 2012 Fisker Karma parked outside a store in Woodside, California, was caused by a short circuit in a cooling fan located in the engine compartment.

Fisker immediately initiated a recall to replace the fan.

Last May, the first Karma fire, in Sugar Land, Texas destroyed the car and damaged the garage and house it was kept in. Owner Jeremy Gutteriez and Fisker remain on adversarial terms.

Startup Fisker has not said lately how many cars it has produced, but the 18 cars damaged or destroyed in the three fires are likely to come from a total population of about 3,000 Karmas built to date.

The company's statement on the Port Newark fires ends, as its previous statements have done, by reiterating that the Fisker Karma "meets or exceeds all safety requirements for markets in North America, Europe, and the Middle East."

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Comments (15)
  1. I wonder if NHTSA will be issuing a statement.
     
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  2. Hmm, though Fisker is correct that there were many car fires that resulted from the storm I'm not sure that we've heard the last of this problem. The one thing all these fires have in common are that they were all parked when they caught fire. Sometimes cars catch while they're being driven, their driver notices a little smoke pulls over and either puts it out or watches it burn to the ground. But the Karma seems to catch fire when no one is looking.
     
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  3. The Woodside fire was due to a cooling fan with a faulty bearing that could short and start smouldering from low enough current not to burn the fuses. Those cooling fans have all been recalled and replaced.

    Note they said a voltage control unit USED IN MANY OTHER VEHICLES NOT JUST FISKER was cause here susceptible to salt damage. Bad luck for Fisker used for sensationalist purpose by Jalopnik et al
     
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  4. Yes I have read the details of the past fires I was commenting on the similarities between all the fires so far. I said nothing about the causes just the fact that they were all motionless and unattended at the time.
     
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  5. Wayne, I don't know, so that's why I'm asking, although I'm reading this so late that you probably won';t see it, anyway... Yes, VCU (Vehicle Control Units) are used in many vehicles. Yes, it's a standard component to a degree. The question is if the VCU in question is used exactly as is in other vehicles. If so, why fail in Fisker and not elsewhere?

    Saying it's not a big deal since this type of component is used in other vehicles only works if it's the same unit. If other VCUs are doing fine (and I don't know if they are, hence the question), then the Fisker explanation doesn't quite fit.

    Please understand that most here would love to see Fisker succeed, but it's hard to have faith at the moment. Let's hope things improve, quickly.
     
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  6. Sounds like the Karma's electrical system might be poorly designed. Circuit breakers are supposed to trip before faulty components reach combustible temperatures but in the Karma that doesn't always seem to work.
     
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  7. nothing to see here. just another example of a car fire. we get tens of thousands of them annually
     
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  8. "...which led to a fire when the Karma's 12-Volt battery fed power into the circuit."

    "...the cars' 20-kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery packs as a cause of, or even a contributing factor to, the blaze."

    Hahahaha
     
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  9. I admit I am partial to Tesla, but I still would not take stories out of context.


    Corrosion from the salt caused a short circuit in the unit, which led to a fire when the Karma's 12-Volt battery fed power into the circuit.

    The company ruled out the cars' 20-kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery packs as a cause of, or even a contributing factor to, the blaze.
     
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  10. That sounds like a "poor engineering" to me.

    Anytime the car is "shut off", the standby power should have protection circuits if anything is drawing too much current, it should cut off or limit the current draw...

    Sounds like Fisker "rushed" designs unlike Tesla...
     
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  11. I just posted a comment and got censored
     
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  12. @Robert: Yes, the system censored you for bad language. It appears you resubmitted your comment below minus the bad words.
     
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  13. What about the Toyota Prius that caught fire at the same port? Autoblog reported it. How about the Volvos that also caught fire? Does this reporter have a clue about what he is talking about.
     
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  14. @Robert: Which part of the following statement from the 10th paragraph of the article isn't clear to you?

    "Fisker...noted that several other 'non-hybrid cars from a variety of manufacturers' caught fire in separate incidents after the flood waters receded."
     
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  15. I think I know what you're getting at Robert.

    Definitely some unbalanced reporting going on here.
     
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