It’s been anything but a smooth ride for Anaheim California-based Fisker Automotive, manufacturer of luxury plug-in electric vehicles. Since its inception in 2007, Fisker has battled delays, rescheduled launches, and a horde of questions about the company’s financial stability. In the latest round of bad news for Fisker, the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration has sent investigators out to Sugar Land, Texas, to check out a fire involving the $103,000 Fisker Karma plug-in hybrid. The fire occurred back on May 3 according to Claude Harris, director of vehicle safety compliance and acting associate administrator for enforcement for the NHTSA.
“We are conducting an ongoing field inquiry for an EV incident in Texas,” Harris told Bloomberg at a Transportation Department electric-vehicle safety forum in Washington. “We are still engaged in that activity, and no determination has been made at this time.”
The exact cause of the fire is still unknown. Fisker spokesman Roger Ormisher played the inquiry down saying it’s “routine.” Fisker is cooperating fully with the NHTSA and insurance adjuster’s investigation.
“We also understand that the officials looked at other vehicles involved in the fire too,” Ormisher told Bloomberg, in reference to the other vehicles at the property are also being investigated besides the Karma, which was left fully intact after the fire had occurred. “The lithium-ion battery of the Fisker Karma was fully intact after the fire and has been tested and is in full working condition. Currently, the precise ignition source and cause of the garage fire is still to be determined.”
Electric vehicle fires are no stranger to the NHTSA as the lithium-ion battery that powers most EVs have been at the root of a few recent investigations. Most notably, a fire that occurred last year in North Carolina involving the Chevrolet Volt was not attributed to the lithium-ion battery catching fire. Then there was Volt battery fires at the NHTSA’s own test facility. Recently, there was a fire at Chevrolet’s own battery testing facilities which GM has since then denied the testing had anything to do with the Volt.
Still, Fisker has come under national scrutiny thanks to a $529 million loan from the U.S. Department of Energy to develop the Finland-made Karma and the recently-debuted Atlantic. However, Fisker’s credit line was frozen last year after the automaker failed to meet a deadline with the Karma. The loan, which is subjected to intense scrutiny from Congress, has been questioned in a recent letter from Republican Senators Charles Grassley of Iowa and John Thune of South Dakota. Both men had called Fisker’s loan into question, saying the automaker was “one of the more unusual recipients.” Ford, Nissan, and Tesla also received some financial help from the government to further develop its version of an electric vehicle.
David Frantz, acting executive director of the U.S. energy department’s loan program office, responded in a letter to Grassley and Thune. Frantz said the department did its homework before handing Fisker its loan.
“Like the due diligence performed on all ATVM applications, the department’s due diligence for the Fisker loan was extensive with rigorous financial, technical, legal and market analysis conducted over many months by DOE’s internal professional staff, including qualified engineers and financial experts and outside experts,” said Frantz to Bloomberg.
Grassley and Thune felt like the response from Frantz dodges the actual questions asked originally.
“There’s also a lot of discussion of the due diligence that went into making the loan but no evidence to show what that due diligence actually was,” Grassley said to Bloomberg. “I intend to follow up for a more thorough response.”
Automotive.com’s take: Do you feel Fisker deserved the loan from the U.S. Department of Energy? Tell us what you think in the comment section below.