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Bad Karma: $100K Plug-in Hybrid Dies Before Consumer Reports Can Test It

| Tuesday March 13th, 2012 | 1 Comment

You know those days that are just so bad you wish you hadn’t even bothered to get out of bed? Well, the folks at Fisker Automotive had one of those recently when their sexy, expensive, award-winning, new sports car died in the parking lot of Consumer Reports before any quality tests could be conducted on it. The Fisker Karma, which is one of the first luxury electric vehicles to come on the market, is a high performance plug-in hybrid. Late last year it was awarded the Luxury Car of the Year Award by the British TV show Top Gear.

Consumer Reports had owned the car, which had less than 200 miles on it, for a few days when they tried to take it out on their test track to begin conducting tests. When they did so, the car flashed an error message and stopped working:

The dashboard flashed a message and sounded a “bing“ showing a major fault. Our technician got the car off the track and put it into Park to go through the owner’s manual to interpret the warning. At that point, the transmission went into Neutral and wouldn’t engage any gear through its electronic shifter except Park and Neutral.

The Consumer Reports people tried a few more things to get the car working but to no avail. It had to be hauled away on a flat bed back to the dealer. As noted on the Consumer Reports blog, “Our Fisker Karma cost us $107,850. It is super sleek, high-tech – and now it’s broken.”

Consumer Reports magazine, which buys about eighty cars per year, said that this is the first time in recent memory that anyone could recall a car breaking down before they had gone through their check-in process with it. David Champion, Senior Director of Consumer Reports Auto Test Division, told Design News, “This is the first time in decades where we had a car that was undriveable and immovable. It was just stuck in the middle of our car park.”

A Fisker representative told USA Today that they were able to drive the car off the flatbed. In their official statement the company said they were working to understand and resolve the issue. They also noted that, “With about 2,000 Karmas built to date, 1,000 at retailers and 500 in customer hands, there are many satisfied Fisker owners around the world, driving without incident.” Indeed, there are some very high profile Fisker Karma owners out there including Ashton Kutcher, Leonardo DiCaprio and teen heart throb Justin Bieber who recently received one for this 18th birthday.

Apparently this isn’t the first time Consumer Reports has had problems with the Karma. They experienced some difficulties with another car that visited the track and have heard reports of other issues happening at press events. Some owners have also reported problems on FiskerBuzz, a website forum for Fisker owners.

Fisker has been dealing with other problems as well. The company recently ran out of money and had to start laying off workers. Apparently the production and sales milestones that had been agreed upon as part of a government loan were not met and Fisker stopped receiving the money as a result. Work was halted at the company’s plant in Delaware and 26 workers were laid off.

For a start-up company, the task of designing and building a completely new car with a foreign drive train poses a huge challenge. Issues are bound to happen. It’s just unfortunate that one had to take place in the hands of the country’s premier product review organization. I’m sure the company is working really hard to get the issue resolved quickly and hopefully the incident doesn’t derail the company’s future success.

[Image credit: Fisker Auto, Flickr]

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Kara Scharwath is a corporate social responsibility professional, marketing consultant and Sustainable Management MBA Candidate. She is currently working as a Graduate Associate in Corporate Citizenship at the Walt Disney Company while pursuing her degree at Presidio Graduate School. Follow her on Twitter @karameredith.


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  • http://twitter.com/gmcheeseman Gina-Marie Cheeseman

    During a recent episode of Top Gear, James May, one of the show’s presenters, test drove the car. I remember thinking, “It’s a cool car and it’s a plug-in!” How sad that this happened. It surely doesn’t bode well for the car’s success.