Bad Karma: NHTSA Safety Probe Into Fisker Electric Car Fire Possible

Bad Karma Seems to Stick with the Electric Car

on May 11 2012 1:56 PM
Screen shot of the Fisker car fire from AutoWeek.com.
Screen shot of the Fisker car fire from AutoWeek.com. IBTimes

Fisker Automotive has been struggling recently, and reports that one of its post-recall Fisker Karma cars ignited in a suburban Houston garage are not helping the image of the company and its hybrid-electric car. And unlike the calm, cool and collected Aventador guy, it seems doubtful the owner of the crisped Karma has anything to smile about since his $103,000 car also set fire to his Acura NSX and Mercedes-Benz SUV.

The fire that charred the garage of a home in Sugar Land, Texas, was allegedly started when a new Fisker Karma, less than 60 days old, burst into flames shortly after being parked, Auto Week reported Tuesday. The car was not plugged in and battery remained intact, so investigators have been looking for other factors which could have started the fire.

Yes, the Karma was the origin of the fire, but what exactly caused that we don't know at this time, Fort Bend County, Texas chief fire investigator Robert Baker told Auto Week at the time.

Now, though, experts are calling attention to the way the engine has been shoehorned into the Karma and how poor packaging in the engine compartment and exhaust routing can lead to excess heat in the car, according to a Friday report by Auto News.

That engine is shoehorned into that bay, because they had to use a larger engine, because it was too heavy a car. As a result, there's no room for exhaust routing and heat shielding to rout the heat away, Jon Bereisa, CEO of Auto Lectrification consultancy firm said, according to Auto News.

The owner of the Fisker Karma, iEnergy North America president Jeremy Gutierrez, smelled rubber when the fire first started. Smelling rubber burning is not indicative of a battery fire, Bereisa said, but rather of the engine packaging igniting. One possible scenario for the fire is that an oil, fuel or coolant leak along the poorly heat-shielded exhaust route burst into flame shortly after the car was parked.

We are categorically denying any opinion on the Fisker Karma's engine packaging, a Fisker spokesman said Friday.

So far, Fisker is saying that the fire may have been caused by some as-yet-unspecified object caught on the car and that there is currently a lot of speculation. The company has dispatched a team of engineers and there are multiple teams from insurance companies on site.

The problem described by Bereisa resembles an issue identified in a December 2011 Fisker Karma recall. In that situation, 239 Fisker Karma cars were recalled because of mis-positioned hose clamps which could cause a coolant leak into the battery compartment, consequently increasing the risk of fire.

Fisker was quick to deny any relationship between the December recall and the fire in Sugar Land. The recall in December was a precautionary measure related to the battery and there were no fires caused by the flaw, the Fisker spokesman said. In the case of the Sugar Land fire, there were a myriad of things that can happen, he said, adding that thus far the fire department had identified the Karma as the origin of the fire, not necessarily the cause of the fire.

The fire department has not officially identified the cause of the fire, and Fisker has not presented any theories or opinions beyond stating the battery was not the cause of the fire. Auto Blog estimates to have caused $100,000 of damage, not including the damage to the three cars in the garage.

To make matters worse, Federal safety officials are monitoring the investigation of the Karma fire, although they have not opened a formal investigation of their own, the Wall Street Journal reported Thursday.

The Karma fire comes at a bad time for Anaheim-based Fisker as the company was forced in March to replace all of the batteries developed by A123 Systems Inc. after a Consumer Reports test car broke down. The cost of replacing the defective batteries was $55 million, although A123 Systems Inc. footed the bill.