Hurricane Sandy Reduces 16 Fisker Karmas to Ashes

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Fisker logoWe’ve already seen Fisker Karmas spontaneously ignite in a Texas garage and a supermarket parking lot in California, which were blamed on isolated incidents.

But now the taxpayer-subsidized ($193 million) electric automaker has seen several of its $102,000+ luxury hybrids go up in smoke all at once, thanks to Hurricane Sandy.

Jalopnik.com reported Tuesday night that approximately 16 of the Karmas that were parked in Port Newark, N.J. Monday night as Hurricane Sandy approached were submerged by the storm surge. According to the Web site’s unidentified source, the vehicles then “caught fire” and “exploded.” Jalopnik has exclusive photos of the Karmas in which they all were thoroughly destroyed by what must have been an intense inferno.

Fisker – which was supposed to received $529 million from the Department of Energy’s stimulus allocation but was shut off because its business performance shortcomings – has acknowledged the incident.

“We can report that there were no injuries and none of the cars were being charged at the time,” a company statement said, in Fisker’s now recognizable antiseptic boilerplate.

“We have confidence in the Fisker Karma and safety is our primary concern. While we intend to find the cause as quickly as possible, storm damage has restricted access to the port. We will issue a further statement once the root cause has been determined.”

Now a disaster is a disaster, and automobiles don’t get immersed in salt water every day, but the number of catastrophic incidents with the Karma is getting ridiculous. It’s not like you can say that gas-powered vehicles have an equivalent flaw, because those just sink. If excessive water in this case could set off some kind of short-circuit, then what other real-world, more common circumstance might cause a problem?

Some of the reasons for Fisker’s problems have been identified, but some haven’t. The cause of the May garage fire in Sugar Land, Texas, has never been determined, although the fire marshal said the homeowner’s Karma was the cause. According to a report by Autoweek, the fire started shortly after the owner, Jeremy Gutierrez, parked his Karma in his garage. Gutierrez left the vehicle, which he had purchased in April, without plugging it in. Within minutes he reportedly smelled burning rubber, and the fire consumed all three vehicles he owned, caused severe damage to his home, and endangered his family.

The fire marshal, Robert Baker, told news media, “This looks just like golf cart fires we have down here.” As for the investigation he said, “I’ve worked homicide scenes with less secrecy.”

Fisker, whose default mode is to deflect blame, said at the time, “As of now, multiple insurance investigators are involved, and we have not ruled out possible fraud or malicious intent.”

The second fire occurred in the parking lot of a Woodside, Calif. supermarket while its owner was shopping inside the store. That story was also broken by Jalopnik and was captured on video. After the incident Fisker stated, “No injuries were reported; the vehicle was parked; and the fire was extinguished safely by the emergency services,” as though everyone ought to chill and not make a big deal out of it.

Turns out it was a big enough deal for Fisker to launch its third recall of the Karma. The first two were because of problems with the cars’ batteries, manufactured by stimulus-funded ($279 million-plus) A123 Systems, which declared bankruptcy earlier this month. Fisker said the Woodside fire was caused by a failure in a cooling fan, which caused overheating. About 2,400 Karmas – 1,400 of which were in the possession of customers – were recalled.

Besides the fires, Fisker’s other problems are well documented. Fisker has suffered a series of publicity blunders including the 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. Fisker also was supposed to occupy a revamped former General Motors manufacturing plant in Delaware to manufacture its next vehicle model, but its accumulating problems and loss of taxpayer stimulus caused it to halt that project. As a result, First State taxpayers are paying the utility bills for the empty plant thanks to a deal Fisker cut with the state government.

And not surprisingly (other than maybe the fact they bothered to review it in the first place), Consumer Reports in September pegged the Karma as the worst luxury sedan on the market, and fourth-worst sedan overall. During the review process the publication reported it had to send its model back to the dealer for repeated problems such as frequent instrument, window and radio glitches, and recurring warning lights.

“Most Karmas are going to be bought by the rich and famous,” said the Consumer Reports reviewer. “That’s good, because they can afford another car to drive if their Fisker’s in the shop.”

We may or may not find out what caused the Karma fires during the hurricane, since the vehicles were reduced to ashes and frames. Also, investigations of fires involving electric cars funded by the Obama administration take a very long time – and other than Woodside, usually don’t come to conclusions. In addition to the mystery cause of the Karma fire in Texas, the causes of two fires that shortened the lives of Chevy Volts in Connecticut and North Carolina – both last year – have not been determined.

Of course the torching of 16 electric cars (and their batteries) built by taxpayers for rich people is among the least of the problems caused by Hurricane Sandy. But had the Obama administration not launched a foolish “green” venture capital scheme with public money in the first place, it would have been one less problem to deal with.

Paul Chesser is an associate fellow for the National Legal and Policy Center and publishes CarolinaPlottHound.com, an aggregator of North Carolina news.