Orange County Business Journal

Fisker Hires Private Investigators on Karma Fire

Chris Casacchia Monday, August 13, 2012

Anaheim-based Fisker Automotive Inc. has hired a private investigator to examine and test one of its luxury sedans after it caught fire in the Northern California city of Woodside on Friday.

Fisker said it hired Corona-based Pacific Rim Investigative Services Group Inc. to analyze the second known fire to affect its flagship Karma, which retails for about $103,000.

“Evidence revealed thus far supports the fact that the ignition source was not the Lithium-ion battery pack, new technology components or unique exhaust routing,” the company said in a released statement.

The company has delivered more than 1,000 Karmas, which feature an advanced power train that combines an electric motor with a gas-powered engine.

The fire in Woodside started outside the engine compartment, with no damage to the passenger compartment or injuries reported.

The car has been sent to Orange County, where the investigation will focus on the area of the driver’s side front tire, Fisker spokesman Roger Ormisher told the Business Journal.

Pacific Rim, established in 1995, is staffed by investigators at police and fire agencies and insurance companies.

The automaker also has hired an independent fire expert to assist the investigation.

The first Karma fire—which occurred in May in the driveway of the car’s owner in Sugarland, Texas—was not “adequately resolved” and was ruled an accidental fire, Ormisher said.

The Karma has received industry plaudits and design awards, but the company has been scrutinized by some politicians who have objected to government subsidies to the clean technology sector. Some critics singled out Fisker after it missed sales and production goals tied to its $529 million loan from the U.S. Energy Department.

Fisker has received $193 million of the $529 million loan from the federal agency, according to the company, with the remaining $336 million now subject to renegotiation.

A battery defect that was discovered earlier this year is expected to eventually affect most Karma owners and future buyers.

The “latent manufacturing defect” that caused the troubles was traced to a Livonia, Mich., plant run by A123 Systems Inc., Fisker’s lithium-ion battery pack supplier. Fisker said it will replace batteries as needed.

A123 was thrown a life-preserver last week by Wanxiang Group Corp., one of China’s largest auto parts makers and non-owned government companies, which agreed to invest $450 million in the battery maker.