There’s that uncomfortable juxtaposition of words again: “Tesla” and “fire.”
This time was quite an accomplishment by the electric automaker’s publicity department: they kept the Irvine, Calif. garage fire quiet for over a month. The secrecy expired on the November 15 incident when the Orange County Fire Authority attributed the incident to the EV’s re-powering set-up, according to a report obtained by Reuters.
Thirteen of Fisker Automotive executives made more than six figures in the past year, despite manufacturing zero cars.
The news was first reported Wednesday afternoon on the automotive Web site Jalopnik.com, and later in the evening by the Delaware Journal. Jalopnik often gets the scoops when electric cars catch fire. For those unaware of the ugly saga, Fisker declared bankruptcy at the end of last month after squandering more than $1.4 billion in private investment and losing $139 million of taxpayers’ money.
An incident blew up in the media this week, in which a Georgia owner of an electric car was arrested, after he plugged in his Nissan Leaf at a DeKalb County middle school without permission.
Except, unable to resist a good spin, journalists glommed on to the sympathetic portrayal of the Leaf owner’s seeming inconsequential crime: He only stole a nickel’s worth of electricity. If you didn’t dig very far into the story, you’d see the portrayal of driver Kaveh Kamooneh victimized by a cold, unyielding police officer in the Atlanta suburb of Chamblee. Worse, the officer’s boss, Sergeant Ernesto Ford, said, “I’m not sure how much electricity he stole. He broke the law. He stole something that wasn’t his.”
“Recognizing that these investments would include some risk, Congress established a loan loss reserve for the program, and the Energy Department built in strong safeguards to protect the taxpayer if companies could not meet their obligations,” Bill Gibbons, an agency spokesman, said in an e-mail to Bloomberg News. “Because of these actions…the Energy Department has protected nearly three-quarters of our original commitment to Fisker Automotive.”
Fires, faulty drive units, financial losses and stock price deflation marked Tesla Motors news in a week that seemed as bad as the last couple of years were good.
Fortunately for CEO Elon Musk and his support staff he’s mastered the art of celebri-preneur showmanship that he’s built enough standing with the media to endure a really bad week. The multi-billionaire who’s dazzled with innovation at Paypal, SpaceX and SolarCity will be permitted his stumbles because of his track record and his self-assurance. Henrik Fisker, whose taxpayer-backed luxury electric auto company didn’t get nearly the same favor, must be jealous.
The audit, released by DOE IG Gregory Friedman in July, determined (among other things) that the persistent weak demand for electric vehicles harmed the deployment and timeliness of a $135 million-plus taxpayer funded charging network, which led to excessive grants and project expansion that became virtually unusable under the grants’ guidelines. Investigators discovered that conditions for reimbursement to Ecotality for the EV charging demonstration project were “very generous” and that cost-sharing requirements were extremely lenient.
Tesla’s once-Teflon Tony StarkElon Musk, the adored Paypal/SpaceX/electric-car innovator who’s been showered with unmitigated media praise and highly inflated stock values, has another lithium ion battery fire to explain.
This one happened after a Model S crash in Mexico. The last one happened less than a month ago in Kent, Wash. Since then Tesla’s share price has fallen from $193.90 on Sept. 30 to $160.58 this afternoon. The irrational exuberance that made the electric automaker the darling of Wall Street has now become merely excitable, although still unjustifiably so. Even Musk himself told Bloomberg last week, “The stock price that we have is more than we have any right to deserve.”