Another government-funded electric vehicle has burned.
This time it’s the second fire in a Fisker Karma, which received $193 million out of a $529 million award from a Department of Energy loan guarantee before the cabinet agency cut the company off for failure to meet still-undisclosed milestones. This blaze (video), according to a report on the automotive Web site Jalopnik, occurred in a Woodside, Calif. parking lot while its owner was inside a store shopping for groceries.
In another development, the State of Delaware has been stuck paying more than $400,000 in utilities bills for a vacant factory that Fisker was supposed to occupy and use to manufacture its next electric car model, the Atlantic.
As for the fire, Fisker has acknowledged the incident.
“We have more than 1,000 Karmas on the road with a cumulative 2 million miles on them,” the company said in a statement published on Wired.com. “There are more than 185,000 highway vehicle fires in the US every year.”
The statement added that since the fire was away from the battery and high-voltage components, that those were unlikely the cause. Claiming that they have “absolute confidence” in the design, engineering and technology of the Karma, Fisker said it has enlisted a fire expert to assist with the investigation and that they will comment further once the analysis is completed.
Don’t hold your breath. Investigations of fires involving electric cars funded by the Obama administration take a very long time – and don’t come to conclusions. The causes of two fires that shortened the lives of Chevy Volts in Connecticut and North Carolina – both last year – have not been determined. And a garage fire caused by a Karma (according to the fire marshal, Robert Baker) in Sugar Land, Texas in May has not had an official explanation.
The tone of Fisker’s statement about the California fire is consistent with the lack of humility it showed after the Texas fire. Rather than accept responsibility or show remorse or concern for the health and property of the customers affected, instead the company spouted statistics and deflected blame for any damage done. And there’s still time for Fisker to find a way to impute culpability upon the owner, as it did in Texas with Jeremy Gutierrez, who saw his family endangered, his garage damaged, and two other vehicles besides his Karma also destroyed.
“As of now, multiple insurance investigators are involved, and we have not ruled out possible fraud or malicious intent,” Fisker said in a May statement published by Autoweek.com. “Based on initial observations and inspections, the Karma’s lithium ion battery pack was not being charged at the time and is still intact and does not appear to have been a contributing factor in this incident.”
After last week’s California incident, Fisker stated, “No injuries were reported; the vehicle was parked; and the fire was extinguished safely by the emergency services.” It almost sounds like the company expects to be commended for those circumstances.
Fisker has suffered a series of publicity blunders including two recalls, a Karma breakdown at Consumer Reports’ test facility, layoffs, the cutoff of its loan by DOE, a SEC investigation of its primary venture capital raisers and subsequent punishment of them by an arbitration board. In addition its battery manufacturer, A123 Systems – which was also a top investor which has had to write off much of its stake – has had repeated problems of its own, beginning with being responsible for those two recalls. No wonder why the first words out about the fires was, in effect, “it wasn’t the battery!”
Reports about the Texas fire indicate there was great paranoia about the investigation there also.
“I’ve worked homicide scenes with less secrecy,” said Baker, the fire marshal. “There have to be about 15 engineers down here working on this one.”
The entire electric vehicle industry has been the recipient of billions of taxpayer dollars in stimulus grants and loan guarantees, which is obviously an inappropriate role for government and an especially wasteful use of public money. But Fisker has measured high on the egregious meter. Backed by extremely wealthy and politically connected Silicon Valley investors Kleiner, Perkins, Caufield and Byers, the company otherwise showed no merits or track record that justified any investment from government. The only vehicle Fisker has produced, the Karma, retails for over $102,000, thus making it the beneficiary of a huge subsidy that redounds to the benefit of extremely wealthy people like Al Gore, Leonardo DiCaprio and Justin Bieber.
Meanwhile Delaware taxpayers are on the hook paying the electric bills for Fisker, which was supposed to fill a former General Motors plants with 2,500 workers to build its next electric sedan, the Atlantic. According to The News Journal, Gov. Jack Markell, a Democrat, says the state must make the payments under the $21.5 million agreement he arranged with the California-based manufacturer. The state has paid $6 million for the company’s grant already, and in an election year for the governor it has become a political football.
“Throwing good money after bad is never a winning strategy,” said John Sigler, chairman of the Delaware GOP, to The News Journal, “and I’m disappointed that the governor can’t admit his mistake and start the necessary process to recoup as much of the taxpayer’s money as possible.”
Are you listening, President Obama?
Paul Chesser is an associate fellow for the National Legal and Policy Center and publishes CarolinaPlottHound.com, an aggregator of North Carolina news.