Fisker CEO says Karma shut down to protect itself

Fisker-Karma-front-angleAfter Consumer Reports’ Fisker Karma failed during preliminary testing, it seemed like there was something seriously wrong with the $107,850 hybrid sedan. The Karma, purchased by Consumer Reports, died during speed calibration testing. However, Fisker CEO Tom LaSorda says the car was functioning normally.

“The Karma performed exactly as it was designed to,” Tom LaSorda said in a letter to customers dated March 13. “The onboard diagnostics detected a fault and entered a protection mode that shut the car down to protect other components. We are sorry for the inconvenience this caused the customer.”

When Consumer Reports drove its Karma, a dashboard warning light went off, then the car refused to retstart after it was parked. The magazine said there was a problem with the Karma’s battery pack and inverter cable, and that the dealer invoice said the problem was “duplicated repeatedly.” The car was returned to Consumer Reports with a new battery pack. “We now have a brand-new lithium-ion drive battery pack provided under warranty, though likely costing as much as a small, fuel-efficient car,” the magazine said.

LaSorda said the affected parts were returned to Fisker for analysis, and that he organized a “SWAT Team” of 50 engineers who were investigating the problem. According to LaSorda, there is an issue with the Karma’s software; he said new software has been developed and is currently being tested. LaSorda said he is “personally involved” in the process.

“With any new technology there will be a need for initial updates and refinements and we have demonstrated the ability to quickly resolve them on a case-by-case basis,” LaSorda said. He also said that Fisker’s customer service and dealer networks would assist customers with any problems and give them “complete peace of mind.”

It is unclear whether the Consumer Reports Karma’s shut down will result in a recall. Fisker recall 239 Karmas last December because of a possible battery defect. It also stopped selling the cars for four days in January because of a software glitch that turned on warning lights and froze navigation systems.

Fisker recently said that more than 400 Karmas are already on the road in the United States, but many of these are prototypes that Fisker released to customers for real-world testing.

The Karma is a brand-new car featuring new technology, so teething problems are to be expected. However, Fisker needs to avoid another high-profile failure if it wants people to take it seriously. The Karma is an excellent proof-of-concept, but Fisker needs to work on reliability before it starts selling the cheaper Nina to larger numbers of consumers.