News Column

Luxury Electric Cars Damaged in NJ Fire Undergo Inspection

Nov. 8, 2012

Richard Newman

Fisker Karma.
Fisker Karma.

A California-based luxury electric carmaker is in damage-control mode this week, deflecting concerns that its high-voltage battery packs may pose a fire hazard.

Anaheim-based Fisker Automotive is saying the lithium-ion batteries that power its troubled Karma did not cause an Oct. 30 Port Newark fire that damaged 16 of the vehicles, which list for more than $100,000 each.

The company said in a statement emailed Tuesday to The Record that the cars were submerged in 5 to 8 feet of seawater for several hours during superstorm Sandy. The fire, which occurred after the water receded, was the result of salt residue that caused a short circuit in a low-voltage control module in one of the cars.

"This residual salt damage caused a short circuit which led to a fire that heavy winds then spread to other Karmas parked nearby," the statement said. "The Karma's lithium-ion batteries were ruled out as a cause or contributing factor.''

The inspection of the damaged vehicles by Fisker Automotive engineers was witnessed by National Highway Traffic Safety Administration representatives, the company said. The NHTSA, which did not immediately respond Tuesday to requests for comment, last year investigated Chevrolet's Volt after battery packs caught fire following crash tests.

The regulator issued guidance in January to electric car owners and emergency responders in which it said "there is potential for delayed fire with damaged lithium-ion batteries," but it does not believe that electric vehicles pose more risk of post-crash fires than gasoline-powered vehicles.

Still, the NHTSA advised against parking a severely damaged electric or hybrid-electric car inside a garage or within 50 feet of another car or structure.

The 16 damaged Karmas were among the thousands of dealership- bound vehicles from various automakers that were swamped at the port by tidal surge from Sandy last week.

In December Fisker recalled 239 Karmas because of a battery problem that could result in a fire, according to the NHTSA.

Two privately owned Karmas caught fire earlier this year, one in May in Sugarland, Texas, and one in August in Woodside, Calif., but the high-voltage batteries were not to blame, the company has said.

"I see no reason not to take them at their word," said Dan Edmunds, director of vehicle testing at car-buying guide edmunds.com.

Fisker has delivered more than 1,900 Karmas since last year.


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