Friday, March 16, 2012

Fisker CEO: Karma That Shut Down In Magazine Test Performed As Designed To

Published March 16, 2012

By Philippe Crowe

In follow-up to the latest of several PR embarrassments narrowly and arguably sidestepped, Fisker Automotive says its extended-range electric Karma being tested recently by Consumer Reports went into shut down mode to protect itself.

The widely read consumer magazine had purchased the luxury sedan for $107,850, then it repeatedly died during speed calibration testing, but as reported by Reuters, Fisker’s CEO said this was normal.

"The Karma performed exactly as it was designed to," said Tom LaSorda to customers in a letter. "The onboard diagnostics detected a fault and entered a protection mode that shut the car down to protect other components. We are sorry for the inconvenience this caused the customer."

Automotive News reported further that LaSorda said this week he has put in place a "SWAT team" of 50 engineers and other consultants to identify any problems or other issues experienced by Karma owners. He said new software has been developed and installed in a large number of cars that were being tested "round the clock."

As we’ve previously reported, Fisker recalled over 200 Karmas for a defective hose clamp, has raised prices since the concept was unveiled and pricing was first projected, and it was delayed in getting through certification by the U.S. EPA.

The company has been under the microscope by conservatives and others who are leery also about a $529 low interest loan originally promised to help refit a former GM assembly plant in Wilmington, Del.

That plant is to build extended-range electric 2013 Project Nina variants, but the money was frozen after about one-third of it was disbursed because Karmas did not reach certain agreed upon production goals.

As for the Consumer Reports incident, the publication had said the dealer determined the problem was "duplicated repeatedly" and a fault was found in the car's battery and inverter cable.

"We now have a brand-new lithium-ion drive battery pack provided under warranty, though likely costing as much as a small, fuel-efficient car," said Consumer Reports, which added it will complete its testing of the luxury car.

We were left initially perplexed: How does Fisker's CEO say the car performed as expected, and the dealer said it was a warranty issue? Was it a defect or not?

According o Fisker spokesman Roger Ormisher in a phone interview today, exactly what was the specific cause was unknown, but customer service policy is always to err on the safe side and get the customer back out on the road without delay.

Previously with the hose clamp issue, the same tact was taken. The company was swapping out batteries just to solve a hose clamp issue rather than add any time to an already existing delay.

This attitude, plus a 24-hour customer hotline and now the team of engineers ready to deal with any cough or hiccup are seen as needed to allay concerns in this climate in which Fisker says it finds itself.

Its executives have made clear they know they are still in a place where they have to prove themselves, and Henrik Fisker and now Tom LaSorda have been willing to personally contact customers and make any perceived issues right.

The Karma was penned by Henrik Fisker who has previously designed Aston Martins, among other luxury marques, and it has been otherwise well received as a beautiful car with solid performance capable of running economically as well.

The Karma has garnered a number of awards so far as well, and has made a high-profile splash in a very demanding economic environment while fighting regulatory hurdles and customer expectations never dreamed of in previous decades by American automotive startups.

While some in the media and critics have taken an exceptionally sharp view, Fisker says it will keep doing what it takes to show it is serious and bumps in the road aside, will grow into a fully fledged American advanced-tech car manufacturer.

Automotive News (subscription req'd.)


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