May 09

Fisker Karma implicated in Texas house fire

 

Although an official conclusion has yet to be made, the chief fire investigator in Fort Bend, Texas has said that a Fisker Karma was the source of a house fire there.

“Yes, the Karma was the origin of the fire,” said Chief Robert Baker to Autoweek about the incident that took place last week, “but what exactly caused that we don’t know at this time.”

The car was burned to the frame, and also damaged its garage mates – an Acura NSX and Mercedes-Benz SUV – and burned also the garage and a second floor. No injuries were reported.


 

Autoweek reported there were fireworks near the vehicle and in an interview yesterday, Fisker spokesman Roger Ormisher told us Fisker had not ruled out the possibility of nearby combustible sources other than the car itself. Numerous engineers and investigators have been working on the case.

Baker had also told Autoweek the Karma was not plugged in when the fire apparently began less than three minutes after the owner pulled it into the garage. The owner reported smelling burning rubber immediately before the flames began and quickly engulfed the car.

“The car was brand-new,” said Baker. “He still had paper tags on it, so it was 60 days old at [most].”

The vehicle had also been through a Fisker service update, but again, what actually caused the fire is still unknown.

Fisker has also issued the following statement:

Last week, Fisker Automotive was made aware of a garage fire involving three vehicles, including a Karma sedan, that were parked at a newly-constructed residence in Sugar Land, Texas. There were no injuries.

There are conflicting reports and uncertainty surrounding this particular incident. The cause of the fire is not yet known and is being investigated.

We have not yet seen any written report form the Fort Bend fire department and believe that their investigation is continuing. As of now, multiple insurance investigators are involved, and we have not ruled out possible fraud or malicious intent. We are aware that fireworks were found in the garage in or around the vehicles. Also, an electrical panel located in the garage next to the vehicles is also being examined by the investigators as well as fire department officials. Based on initial observations and inspections, the Karma’s lithium ion battery pack was not being charged at the time and is still intact and does not appear to have been a contributing factor in this incident.

Fisker will continue to participate fully in the investigation but will not be commenting further until all the facts are established.

Ormisher’s comments to us were basically in line with this, and no doubt the company is hoping to have its car cleared.

We’ll note also, it’s almost like a case of deja vu all over again – as GM-Volt readers know Volts were involved in house fires last year, but were cleared.

It also may bear repeating that internal combustion vehicles have been catching fire since their inception, and have maimed and killed many people – and while that is tragic and not in itself acceptable – society has accepted motor vehicles as a worthwhile risk.

Last year alone, over 200,000 internal combustion vehicles were reportedly involved in fires, but today’s social/political climate has been observed to have heightened demands for perceived safety, and has demonstrated skittishness about new technology.

So a fire – while always bad news – has been something the electrified vehicle industry has particularly wanted to avoid so early on.

As for Fisker, the company has had more than its share of so-so to outright negative news, and surely did not need this incident now.

We will report again when we learn more.

Autoweek

This entry was posted on Wednesday, May 9th, 2012 at 5:55 am and is filed under General. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

COMMENTS: 38


  1. 1
    James McQuaid

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    May 9th, 2012 (6:19 am)

    Fisker’s response sounds appropriate and responsible. Expect the losers who cannot afford any new car to jump on the Karma bashing bandwagon (i.e. “Get a horse!”); this to include writers for media outlets.


  2. 2
    xiaowei1

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    May 9th, 2012 (6:25 am)

    and here we go again… a garage fire happens and the electric car must be to blame…. of course it may very well be, but how about an investigation first? Sensationalism will hit and many media outlets will beat this story to within an inch of its life, and then some…


  3. 3
    JDan

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    May 9th, 2012 (8:13 am)

    While I certainly hope Karma did not cause the fire itself, hopefully in the event it did, the cause can be found and fixed. As much as most of us here want this technology to succeed, wanting it so bad as to cover up a flaw would be worse. From what I have read GM was doing what it could to keep blame to a minimum in the fire the Volt was exposed to, however I felt they were trying to honestly find out answers and were willing to fix any problems that might have been found. Fortunately their hard work designing and building the Volt paid off and the Volt was cleared. Hopefully it will be the same here. Glad to hear no one was injured. My first car had a utility pole fall on it when it was less than a week old, so I can sympathize with the owners.


  4. 4
    Delta

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    May 9th, 2012 (8:58 am)

    Is this Strike Two?


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    Kup

     

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    May 9th, 2012 (9:05 am)

    I actually think that Fisker’s response was anything but appropriate and responsive. It sounds incredibly defensive to me. I mean, really, why are they even hinting at/suggesting fraud or malicious intent? You don’t make that semi-accusation unless you have a decent belief that that is likely.

    But from what we know this guy is a pretty damn wealthy individual judging by the cars he owns. The likelihood that he bought a Fisker so that he could cause a fire in his garage so that he could collect insurance money is not out of the realm of possibility but is pretty far fetched. I’m also guessing he is in an incredibly nice neighborhood and it is also unlikely that somebody intentionally sabatoged his garage so that the fire would start in the Fisker as soon as he got home.

    Fisker seems to be trying to point the finger any where they can other than waiting to determine the truth. Compare GM’s mundane but professional response when they were awaiting results from the fire marshalls and Fisker’s response to this incident and you will see a huge difference. Fisker’s response was pretty amateurish to me. They should have kept paragraphs 1, 2 and 4 and skipped 3 entirely. The truth will come out one way or another and all the it could have been fireworks, it could have been the electrical panel, it could have been fraud or intentional strikes me as grasping at straws.


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    Truman

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    May 9th, 2012 (9:40 am)

    Mercedes Benz SUV next to fireworks ?

    SUV’s have caught fire hundreds of thousands of times in the last decade – that’s the most likely source of the fire, right there.

    I won’t be buying any more SUV’s until this fire deathtrap issue is cleared up.


  7. 7
    Jeff Cobb

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    May 9th, 2012 (10:19 am)

    Kup: I actually think that Fisker’s response was anything but appropriate and responsive. It sounds incredibly defensive to me. I mean, really, why are they even hinting at/suggesting fraud or malicious intent? You don’t make that semi-accusation unless you have a decent belief that that is likely.

    I believe there were over a dozen people investigating there. The insurance companies, officials, Fisker engineers, transportation officials are working on determining the cause.

    The scientific method dictates test all hypotheses, and rule them out systematically.

    In speaking with Fisker’s communications director, I did not sense he was suspicious of fraud or fireworks or any one thing. He was wanting to let the fire officials and investigators do their job, and – they, by definition of their job, must rule out all possibilities, no matter how unlikely.

    Ormisher said maybe something else caught the car on fire, he did not know, but because it was not plugged in and had been serviced, they could not guess at that point why it would suddenly be consumed by fire.

    In stating what the investigators also had to rule out, one could say Fisker sounds unprofessional. I would agree it is a new company, and is learning how hard it is in this climate to do what it is trying to do.

    Hopefully the investigators can determine with definitive proof what the actual cause for the fire was.

    I’m glad no one was hurt.


  8. 8
    Steve

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    May 9th, 2012 (10:20 am)

    Insufficient data. Not enough to formulate an opinion. I’m waiting until I know more than “there was a garage fire with with cars inside.”


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    May 9th, 2012 (10:34 am)

    Why do I think of that masked character from the movie ‘V’ when I look at that white Karma in the lead picture? Must be the jack-o-lantern grin it has…

    This is another nail in the coffin for Fisker. I just hope its negative effect won’t compromise the desirability of other EVs.


  10. 10
    Jackson

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    May 9th, 2012 (10:40 am)

    Headline from a Parallel Universe:

    In one of Central City’s biggest fires in years, 10 buildings go up in flames;
    electric car to blame

    The six-alarm blaze, which started at 345 Claremont Avenue, tore through 10 two-story frame homes on the south side of the street; and once the fire started traveling through a common cockloft, there was no stopping it. The electric car was parked diagonally across the street, on nearby West Side Avenue, almost a quarter mile away. Though apparently undamaged, fire inspectors have initially cited the Fiskar Karma as the probable cause of the fire. As Central City Fire Director Wendell Wonkey said, “Dude. It’s an electric car!”

    ;-)


  11. 11
    Hahahahaha

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    May 9th, 2012 (11:03 am)

    (click to show comment)


  12. 12
    Loboc

     

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    May 9th, 2012 (11:26 am)

    Steve:
    Insufficient data.Not enough to formulate an opinion.I’m waiting until I know more than “there was a garage fire with with cars inside.”

    I’m in this camp totally. It is way to early to report that a Karma had anything to do with it other than it was one of the three vehicles in the garage.

    I wonder if we can find out statistically if an NSX or an MB SUV are involved in garage fires more often than any other kind of vehicle. /tongue-in-cheek

    And speaking of statistics, how many garage fires with vehicle involvement are reported each year? I’ll bet it’s a lot.

    My next door neighbor had his garage catch on fire (and it destroyed the house). The cause was insufficient (read amateur) electrical supply to an air compressor. It couldn’t possible have caused damage to a vehicle because the garage was packed so full of junk you couldn’t get anything bigger than a moped in there.


  13. 13
    Loboc

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    May 9th, 2012 (11:29 am)

    2010 data:

    Every 24 seconds, a fire
    department responds to a fire somewhere in the nation. A fire occurs in a
    structure at the rate of one every 65 seconds, and in particular a residential
    fire occurs every 82 seconds. Fires occur in vehicles at the rate of 1 every
    146 seconds, and there’s a fire in an outside property every 50 seconds.

    http://www.nfpa.org/assets/files/pdf/os.fireloss.pdf


  14. 14
    kdawg

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    May 9th, 2012 (11:55 am)

    Loboc: Fires occur in vehicles at the rate of 1 every
    146 seconds

    So there are ~25K Volts/Leafs/Karmas/Teslas on the road and there are 250 million cars total in the USA. The EV’s make up 0.01%. 146 seconds/.0001 = 146,000 seconds for an EV fire. That is 1 fire every 17 days. I have not heard of 2 fires/month for EV’s. So statistically they are already safer.


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    kdawg

     

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    May 9th, 2012 (11:56 am)

    Does the Karma have a black box like the Volt does?


  16. 16
    Nelson

     

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    May 9th, 2012 (12:02 pm)

    Like reading about car fires.
    Google April 2012 car fires.

    NPNS!
    Volt#671


  17. 17
    Noel Park

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    May 9th, 2012 (12:38 pm)

    Kup: Fisker’s response was pretty amateurish to me. They should have kept paragraphs 1, 2 and 4 and skipped 3 entirely.

    #5

    I agree. +1 And pretty insulting to their customer too IMHO. I wonder how his brand loyalty is holding up, LOL. Of course fireworks in the garage isn’t the smartest thing I ever heard of, but it is Texas……………..


  18. 18
    Mark

     

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    May 9th, 2012 (12:42 pm)

    My worry would be the insurance companies start jacking up the rates for EVs because of any news like this.


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    Kevin from Canada

     

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    May 9th, 2012 (12:48 pm)

    Why would any news source talk about a fire in an ice car?… Seems there are 500 of those a day, about as newsworthy as rain on the west coast. Now a fire, Aaand an electric car was involved.. Now that’s news!


  20. 20
    nasaman

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    May 9th, 2012 (12:49 pm)

    From the lead article: “…the fire apparently began less than three minutes after the owner pulled it into the garage. The owner reported smelling burning rubber immediately before the flames began and quickly engulfed the car…” “…fireworks were found in the garage in or around the vehicles…”

    I’ll dare to offer this “shoot from the lip” hypothesis: Noting the statements above, and having driven a Karma in its sport mode, I can make the following observations…

    1) The Karma’s exhaust pipe runs are unusually short —from the turbo-charged 2.0L engine thru cat converter(s) & mufflers, exiting on both sides just behind the front fenders

    2) Unlike the Volt, the Karma’s engine runs full time when it’s in sport mode —it’s NOT unlikely the owner was driving in sport mode all the way home from the dealer

    3) Typical home garages use shelving, often containing combustibles, parallel to the parked cars; if such selves ALSO contained fireworks it’s easy to imagine they could have been ignited by the Karma’s extremely-hot exhaust perhaps only inches away, behind the lower edge of a fender*

    4) This conjecture is supported by the owner’s testimony that he was “smelling burning rubber immediately before the flames began”

    During my aggressive test drive in sport mode I observed that the exhausts were VERY loud, which suggests the Karma’s muffler(s) may be minimally restrictive (or even glass-lined?). This (along with the short runs) would contribute to limiting heat dissipation in contrast to the much longer exhaust runs from the front to the rear of almost all cars. Finally, people don’t keep combustibles (or anything else) BEHIND a garaged car, so the side exhausts as seen below are unique to a Fisker Karma.

    Side-profile.jpg
    One hypothesis is that very hot exhaust(s) located low behind the Karma’s front fenders
    might have ignited nearby combustibles stored on shelving perhaps only inches away

    /*It’s also not unlikely that the owner had gasoline-powered mowers, edgers, etc —along with extra gas, perhaps on a side shelf— stored nearby


  21. 21
    kdawg

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    May 9th, 2012 (1:18 pm)

    Mark: My worry would be the insurance companies start jacking up the rates for EVs because of any news like this.

    Luckily insurance companies use things like statistics and not newspaper-selling headlines to determine rates.


  22. 22
    kdawg

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    May 9th, 2012 (1:25 pm)

    Baker had also told Autoweek the Karma was not plugged in when the fire apparently began less than three minutes after the owner pulled it into the garage. The owner reported smelling burning rubber immediately before the flames began and quickly engulfed the car.

    So basically he was sitting there in his garage, looking at his car, and smelling burnt rubber. Then flames appeared. Did he try a fire extinguisher or water before the fire dept. showed up? He couldn’t back his other cars out of the garage in time? If he was looking at the car when the flames appeared, he should know first hand what started the fire, or at least specifically where it started.


  23. 23
    DonC

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    May 9th, 2012 (1:44 pm)

    Following up on nasaman’s point, a lot of people are forgetting that the Karma, like the Volt, has a gas engine. And we and all Ferrari drivers know that gas cars can catch on fire. http://www.worldcarfans.com/110082528063/video-another-ferrari-458-italia-catches-fire-ferrari


  24. 24
    Nelson

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    May 9th, 2012 (1:47 pm)

    I’d love to ask the owner the following questions.
    1. Before you parked the Karma in the garage, how long had it been driven (miles or time)?
    2. What was the approximate outside temperature during the drive? (Texas can get pretty HOT)
    3. Was the ICE running? If so, how long?
    4. How much gas was in the gas tank?

    “The owner reported smelling burning rubber immediately before the flames began and quickly engulfed the car.”
    5. Flames began …. Coming out from the hood?…Coming out from under the car?…Coming out of the power panel?….flames began where?

    Once again the “Devil is in the details”.

    NPNS!
    Volt#671


  25. 25
    Noel Park

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    May 9th, 2012 (2:07 pm)

    nasaman: One hypothesis is that very hot exhaust(s) located low behind the Karma’s front fenders
    might have ignited nearby combustibles stored on shelving perhaps only inches away

    #20

    Yup. Good catch. +1 Or the fuses of the skyrockets, LOL.

    That exhaust system is VERY unusual. I wonder why they did it that way?


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    Noel Park

     

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    May 9th, 2012 (2:12 pm)

    DonC: And we and all Ferrari drivers know that gas cars can catch on fire.

    #23

    Ouch! Another good catch. +1

    I wonder where that was? If it had happened on a similar road in SoCal it probably would have started a giant brush fire.


  27. 27
    Noel Park

     

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    May 9th, 2012 (2:14 pm)

    stuart22: This is another nail in the coffin for Fisker. I just hope its negative effect won’t compromise the desirability of other EVs.

    #9

    Alas, too true. +1


  28. 28
    Dan Petit

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    May 9th, 2012 (2:41 pm)

    nasaman,

    Combustion temps within cylinders can easily exceed 1200 degrees. I agree that in WOT (wide open throttle) for maximized generator wattage, that just the presence of an exhaust pipe at anything over 700 degrees could be a trigger for combustion of nearby flammables.
    In most scan tools you can easily see a modeled catalyst temperature of nearly 800 degrees on a hot summer day (in many PCM’s that offer that data parameter.) But that would not be at WOT, it is at a power demand of less than fifty percent of maximum. Catalyst temps can go higher than the 800 degrees during extended high speed driving. So, these are excellent points that you bring out, nasaman.


  29. 29
    wainair

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    May 9th, 2012 (3:05 pm)

    Ah Baloney!

    I am still suspicious of this… it is really bad timing for Frisker.
    The fact the guy was storing fireworks in his garage too, I’m sure he was a real fire safe person.

    What bugs me more is the media… they are making this the old witch trials all over, does she float? she must weigh the same as a duck, SHE”S A WITCH!

    Did the garage that caught on fire have an electric car in it? That must have started the fire!

    What about all the ICE cars that burn each day that don’t make any ripple in the news at all?


  30. 30
    Jackson

     

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    May 9th, 2012 (3:22 pm)

    Dan Petit: I agree that in WOT (wide open throttle) for maximized generator wattage, that just the presence of an exhaust pipe at anything over 700 degrees could be a trigger for combustion of nearby flammables

    Which reminds me:

    Whatever happened to “WopOnTour?”


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    Open-Mind

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    May 9th, 2012 (5:00 pm)

    IMHO, there are only two energy sources that could engulf and destroy the entire car so quickly. One is the lithium battery system that they say is still intact. The other is gasoline. I’m guessing that something very hot (electrical short, exhaust system, etc) burned through a fuel line (thus the burning rubber smell) and started a big gasoline fire.


  32. 32
    joe

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    May 9th, 2012 (6:17 pm)

    nasaman,

    Sounds very logical to me. I bet you are right, Nasaman.


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    WVhybrid

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    May 9th, 2012 (8:27 pm)

    Dan Petit:
    nasaman,
    Catalyst temps can go higher than the 800 degrees during extended high speed driving.So, these are excellent points that you bring out, nasaman.

    I think nasaman has identified a serious concern, even if it isn’t the root cause of this case. In the early days of catalytic converters, there were reports of grass fires due to high metal temps. Maybe this is a similar story, only inside a garage, where things can be much more expensive.


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    Raymondjram

     

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    May 9th, 2012 (8:43 pm)

    kdawg:
    Does the Karma have a black box like the Volt does?

    It does now!

    Joking aside, every EV fire is bad news for this market, either an accident or caused by external elements. I do hope Fisker discovers the real source and corrects it in a preventive measure, as GM did with the battery reinforcement for the Volt.

    And for “Delta”, you need an oil enema to clear up!

    Raymond


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    John W (Tampa)

     

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    May 9th, 2012 (11:14 pm)

    The car still looks bad ass


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    DonC

     

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    May 10th, 2012 (1:58 am)

    Jackson: Which reminds me:
    Whatever happened to “WopOnTour?”

    He’s the super-moderator in the forums. Still around.


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    Kup

     

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    May 10th, 2012 (11:59 am)

    Jeff Cobb,

    Thanks for the follow-up Jeff. I agree that the investigation has to be thorough and truth in this is paramount. With that said, while the investigators need to systematically rule out all the possible causes, Fisker does not need to list all the possible causes in their statement.

    While this was not the official statement by GM here it is what GM spokesman Rob Peterson said last April when we had that “Volt” fire in CT. “Everybody seems to be leaping to this conclusion, that it is somehow related to the Volt,” Peterson said, “Let’s let the experts do their jobs. Let’s let the fire marshal determine this. There’s a lot of circumstances that go into this. And there’s a lot of engineering that went in the Chevrolet Volt.”

    He didn’t need to say that there were rags in the corner of the garage. He didn’t need to say that the fire might have been intentionally set. He didn’t need to say it might have been insurance fraud. Short and sweet. In the end the Volt was exonerated and hopefully the Karma will be as well. In the end, only the cause of the fire will matter and not the press statement but hopefully they do learn to not defensively speculate on the possible causes.

    Thanks again Jeff. Keep up the good work.


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    terry

     

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    May 15th, 2012 (7:55 am)

    EV owners, keep the faith! We will weather this storm too!