In case you’ve been living under a rock for the past week, you know the east coast is still shaking off the damage left in the wake of Hurricane Sandy. Fisker Automotive, like many others affected by the storm, suffered a loss in the form of 16 Karma models going up in flames. At first, there was no explanation for why the high-end hybrids caught fire, but the fact that the cars use lithium-ion batteries–and that lithium reacts strongly to water–lead many to conclude that it had something to do with the batteries. Partner that knowledge with the fact that the Fisker Karma is made up of aluminum (a metal that’s faster to melt than steel) and it’s no surprise these vehicles melted like a birthday candle.
This is becoming old hat for Fisker, unfortunately, who is no stranger to their vehicles inexplicably catching fire. To make matters worse, the Anaheim, Calif.-based automaker wasn’t allowed into the Port of Newark’s shipping area at first since the damage from Sandy was so widespread. Fisker was later allowed into the port to inspect the damage from the latest round of fires and has issued a statement explaining why these $102,000 hybrids spontaneously sparked up:
On October 30, following Superstorm Sandy, several electric hybrid and non-hybrid cars from a variety of manufacturers caught fire and were damaged in separate incidents after flood waters receded at Port Newark (NJ), including 16 award-wining Fisker Karmas. Port Newark is one of the largest vehicle handling facilities in the U.S., and many thousands of vehicles of many makes and models were severely damaged as a result of the unprecedented flooding.
After a thorough inspection witnessed by NHTSA representatives, Fisker engineers determined that the damage to the Karmas was the result of the cars being submerged under five to eight feet of seawater for several hours that left corrosive salt in a low voltage Vehicle Control Unit in one Karma. The Vehicle Control Unit is a standard component found in many types of vehicles and is powered by a typical 12V car battery. This residual salt damage caused a short circuit, which led to a fire that heavy winds then spread to other Karmas parked nearby. There were no explosions as had been inaccurately reported. The Karma’s lithium-ion batteries were ruled out as a cause or contributing factor.
The Fisker Karma meets or exceeds all safety requirements for markets in North America, Europe and the Middle East. Fisker Automotive is the leading manufacturer of luxury Electric Vehicles with extended range and will continue to develop and market vehicles that deliver an unmatched combination of style, performance and economy.
In other words, enduring salt damage seeped into the Vehicle Control Unit after it was under water for a number of hours. The Fisker Karma vehicles, among several other makes and models from various other automakers, remained under water for almost eight hours. After combing through the accident site, Fisker believes that the root of the fire didn’t stem from the lithium-ion battery pack, but instead, corrosion from the salt caused the VCU to short circuit. The fire started when the 12-volt battery diverted power into the VCU which, in turn, spread and claimed 16 Karma units in all. Fisker firmly believes the lithium-ion battery pack itself had nothing to do with these fires.
We recently had the chance to drive the 2013 Fisker Karma and found it to be “flawed but beautiful.” It’s still too early to tell if this latest round of disaster will further damage Fisker’s reputation. As stated in our first drive, we hope to continue seeing the Karma on the road because we won’t get tired of seeing it.
What say you? Do you think the battery packs are to blame for the fire that claimed 16 Fisker Karma vehicles? Sound off in the comment section below.