Published August 31, 2012
By Jeff Cobb
In a recent interview, Fisker’s Director, Global Communications Roger Ormisher said the company is doing OK, despite another recall following a second fire, and questions whether the Atlantic will be built in the U.S.
But what about the first Texas Karma fire in May? It is still under investigation, appears like it may never be fully solved and the Fort Bend County Fire Marshal’s report is now suppressed by the county attorney general.
Not even Fisker can get at it, and media requests have all been denied except for a briefed version of the report sent out to those of us who filed an official info request.
Chief Robert Baker did tell HybridCars.com what is in the report however. He said his job was to determine whether a criminal investigation should be opened, and said he found no evidence that warranted doing so.
So he passed the report on as a closed case, saying the fire started at the Karma just as he had from day one to Autoweek. Other investigators continued beyond Baker's local level report however, and Fisker also hired a forensic fire expert to see what he could see.
So far, no one has said if the cause was a faulty fan overheating as was the case with the more recent fire in California, or some other cause.
Ormisher said they may never know as Baker also said, commenting the car was reduced to ashes on a frame and wheels. As things are, the incinerated Texas Karma is being kept secure and no one is allowed access to it unless all concerned parties – insurance companies, Fisker, government investigators, etc. – are all present. This, said Ormisher, would be cost prohibitive, and logistically complicated, so until further notice the Texas fire remains a mystery.
Other than that, Ormisher said the company will survive, and stories about Fisker’s death have been greatly exaggerated – OK, he did not really make the latter statement. What he actually said was despite setbacks, the company is growing, expanding its sales to Africa, Europe, China, Canada, and elsewhere.
Reports have also gone out that over 2,000 Karmas were sold so far, but Ormisher said only “we’re still saying ‘over 1,000’” and would not confirm accounts of as many as 2,400 worldwide Karma sales since its launch late last year.
After many delays right up to its EPA and CARB emissions certifications in October last year Fisker did ramp up production much quicker than did Tesla Motors.
The latter is assembling Model S units so carefully and deliberately, that since its June 22 launch, Tesla only just reported 100 built, of which 74 went to customers.
In contrast, in its first full sales month in January Fisker pumped out 262 Karmas to customers which had come from the well-regarded Finnish subcontractor, Velmet, which also builds certain Porsche models under contract, and a range of other vehicles. If it had been included on the HybridCars.com monthly sales Dashboard, 262 sales would have ranked it the third-best selling plug-in car in North America behind the Leaf and Volt which sold in the 600-unit range.
Fisker’s main problems this year besides its loss of federal loans in February needed to build the Atlantic here surrounded its A123 Systems batteries, These were eventually recalled by A123 and this hurt the Massachusetts battery supplier – A123’s stock price plunged so badly, it accepted an offer from a Chinese investor and gave it an 80-percent controlling share.
Presently , Fisker is recalling all its Karmas a second time for the over-heated fan in its front driver’s side wheel well which was the cause of fire number two in California. The positive news out of this is the battery and engine packaging was not at fault as had been feared.
The man whose car it was – an investment banker and managing partner at Woodside Capital in Silicon Valley – has even said he and his wife like the Karma and believe so fully in Fisker, they'll be getting another Karma, and investing in Fisker the company, as well.
These and other private investors are an indicator Fisker's business plan is more sound than naysayers would likely concede.
Fisker was denied the balance of its U.S. Energy Department loans due to missed deadlines – and reportedly a conservative attitude was induced by political critics of Obama administration green energy loans making the DOE unwilling to re-open the fund supply – but investors are still forking over hundreds of thousands and even millions of dollars to the green energy car company from Irvine, Calif.
Either these private investors are going to lose their own money and may not be that savvy either, or they know – or have been shown details – the naysayers from the sidelines do not know about.
Given investors are putting their own uninsured dollars down, and naysayers are, well, only saying “nay,” you decide who you’ll believe.
For its part, Fisker says it is still working toward launching its now delayed Atlantic. It still wants to build it in its wholly owned former GM Boxwood plant in Wilmington, Del., but this too is up in the air.
Another positive development for Fisker was the hiring of former Chevy Volt line director, Tony Posawatz.
While he’s never been a CEO before now, he has decades of GM experience, was on the Volt Project all the way through and past launch, and is “a great team leader” Ormisher said. Since he’s only been on the job a couple weeks, a full progress report would be early at this point, he added.
What’s absolutely certain is it is not easy launching a new car company in America. The California start-up is actually working toward goals that have otherwise been viewed quite positively. It wants to create environmentally responsible cars in the U.S. and export them globally.
It consistently repeats this while having to comply with over 70,000 pages of regulations, media ready to pounce on any negative report, politically motivated critics invoking the dreaded name of Solyndra, and having weathered several other large and small setbacks.
That it is on the defensive is also apparent, and that probably does not help, but Ormisher says while not always obvious, evidence is available to see that it is making forward strides, and most importantly, its customers for the most part do like their new cars.