Consumer Reports is not the only Fisker owner to experience bad Karma

Consumer Reports News: March 16, 2012 11:38 AM

Fisker-Karma-Leaving-ATD-on-truck-small.jpgLast week, we experienced a failure with our $108,000 Fisker Karma plug-in hybrid that required the car to be transported back to the dealer with less than 200 miles on the odometer. It turns out that Consumer Reports isn't the only Karma owner to experience problems. (Read the original post: "Bad Karma: Our Fisker Karma plug-in hybrid breaks down.")

Reading comments on our recent blogs, posts to owner forums, and searching the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) complaints database, we have found several notable issues reported. While there are not a high number of complaints, it does show we are not alone. And remember, there have been only about 500 cars sold, according to Fisker, and the owners skew to the affluent, meaning the Karma is not the typical owner's only car and miles have likely been modest thus far.

Examples of complaints include:
My Karma (with less than a thousand miles on it) had a mysteriously worn-down coupling between one of the motors and the wheels. This will require a completely new differential. As of today... my Karma [has been] "in the shop" longer than I have driven the car. And the prospect of having it in the shop for another 2 weeks (or possibly longer) is making me really unhappy... [From]

While driving the car, a 2012 Fisker Karma, at 35 mph, the car shut itself off, all lights on the dash illuminated, the brakes did not work, and the steering was impaired, leaving basic directional control only.
[From NHTSA]

So, after leaving the car with my dealer for the last five days, I finally got it back today and really all they did was update my software from [version] 6.12 to 6.14.2. They didn't address ANY of the other issues on the list I sent them last week. They didn't fix the heat shield. They didn't fix the trunk. They didn't fix the body panels. They didn't fix the leather on the passenger seat. Or the wind noise/rattle from the rear window or the driver's window. They didn't even give me floormats! [From]

This would be a funny story if it wasn't [that] I picked up [my Karma] last Monday and it broke down on Tuesday morning. It had to be towed back to the dealership. They "corrected" the problem and I got it back today. We will see. Not a good start. [From]

My car has about 160 miles on it with 6.14 loaded. On Monday, it would not go into D or R. I did several hard reboots, and it didn't fix it. The ... Fisker tech came over to my house and did another hard reboot and it worked. So this morning, I go to take the kids to school and it wouldn't go into D or R. I did a hard reboot and it worked.
Dropped off one of the kids at pre-school and when I came outside, the car wouldn't go into D or R. I tried several hard reboots, and it didn't work. So there I sat in a parking lot with my hood open for 30 minutes wondering what would have happened if my wife were driving with our two small kids. This is not acceptable. A car made in 2011 or 2012 should never leave a person stranded. [From]

Yesterday, I figured it out why my car goes into a frenzy and this may help some of you. When I first got the car, I parked in the garage and put the parking brake on. I had many of the intermittent problems you guys have: CEL, oil lights, wouldn't start, dancing PRND cube, etc. Then I stopped using the parking brake. All the problems went away. [From]

In fairness, the challenges Fisker has surmounted in going from a start-up to a bonafide automaker over a short period are monumental. Some birthing pains are not unexpected, especially as it is presumed the company faced significant timeline challenges to reach milestones necessary to obtain funding. Further, the Karma is a leading-edge car. Check the reliability track record for other companies pushing tech boundaries (ahem, Mercedes-Benz) and you will often find hiccups.

Tough thing is, because the Karma is projected to be a small-volume car, we may not receive enough ownership data to provide a solid look at its reliability. For a car to be included in our reliability results, we must receive information on at least 100 cars per model year. The Chevrolet Volt, which uses a similar technology, crossed that threshold with 113 examples in our last survey. The results were based only on its initial months on the road but have showed it to be a reliable car right out of the gate. (We'll gain deeper insights this year, as ownership length has increased and more cars have been sold.) The Volt proved that all-new, high-tech electrified cars can indeed be reliable, just as the Toyota Prius has demonstrated for years. But both cars have a distinct advantage over the Karma: They were designed, engineered, developed and manufactured by the largest automakers in the world, with vast resources and experience that runs many decades deep.

Historically, buying an all-new car in its first year carries additional reliability risks, as exhibited by several recent models, including the Ford Fiesta and Focus. Being an earlier adopter carries certain risks, no matter what the product or service. But then again, brave trendsetters are necessary to advance the state of the art.

Our customer service experience with Fisker was top-notch, with the vehicle being picked up and available to be returned to our facility, fixed, within 48 hours. While multiple complaints about service have surfaced online, other owners have praised the care they and their vehicles have received. All Karmas sold in the United States come with a 50-month, 50,000-mile bumper-to-bumper warranty. We hope we don't need to use ours again.

But our car isn't trouble-free, even after the repairs. The ESC, ABS, and brake warning lights came on at start-up earlier this week and stayed on for a 15 minute drive; they went away the next day. There is also an intermittent warning tone and light indicating an overheating situation; this warning lamp illuminates, then instantly goes out, signaling that something is amiss.

We'll continue to share our experiences and findings as the Karma moves through our comprehensive program of more than 50 tests.

It's back: Our Fisker Karma returns from the dealership with a new battery pack
Bad Karma: Our Fisker Karma plug-in hybrid breaks down
2012 Fisker Karma - A weekend full of Karma
Five questions with Henrik Fisker, father of the $100,000 Karma plug-in hybrid

Jeff Bartlett

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