Bloomberg News

Fisker’s Karma ‘Full of Flaws,’ Consumer Reports Says

September 25, 2012

Fisker Automotive Inc.’s Karma, the only luxury plug-in hybrid car sold in the U.S., failed to win a recommendation from Consumer Reports, which said tests showed flaws in its interior design and reliability.

In a review of the $107,850 car that it bought for testing, the magazine said the Karma was “full of flaws,” including a tight cabin, poor visibility and dashboard controls that were difficult to use.

“Although we found its ride, handling and braking performance sound and it has first-class interior materials, the Karma’s problems outweighed the good,” Jake Fisher, the magazine’s director of vehicle testing, said in a statement today. Along with the Karma’s cramped cabin and complicated controls, “the gasoline engine has an unrefined roar,” and the Karma’s weight “affects agility and performance,” he said.

The review by Consumer Reports, which is published by Yonkers, New York-based Consumers Union, follows its initial March evaluation of the car, which shut down due to a fault with the battery pack. It adds to the challenges for Anaheim, California-based Fisker which is working to boost sales of the car and raise funds after it lost access to an Energy Department loan last year.

“The car has been a basket case,” Fisher said by telephone. “When you’re paying this much, you’re expecting a car that’s going to run all the time.”

Fisker’s battery supplier, A123 Systems Inc. (AONE:US), is replacing lithium-ion cells in the cars to address the battery’s manufacturing flaws and the pack was replaced in the magazine’s test car, Fisher said.

Cooling Fan

The Karma has been subject to three recalls in the past 12 months. In addition to the battery-pack recall, the company said in August it would recall all its sedans to fix a flawed cooling fan linked to a fire in one of the vehicles.

Fisker, which last month hired Tony Posawatz, the former head of General Motors Co. (GM:US)’s rechargeable Chevrolet Volt program, as its new chief executive officer, has delivered more than 1,900 Karmas since last year and raised more than a $1 billion in private funds.

“As the Karma is a concept car come to life, packaging and visibility will of course not be that of a minivan,” the automaker said in a statement. The company said it’s also working to improve sound quality and software responsiveness.

Unlike battery-only vehicles such Tesla Motors Inc. (TSLA:US)’s Model S and Roadster and Nissan Motor Co. (7201)’s Leaf, plug-in hybrids such as the Karma and Volt also have gasoline engines to charge the battery and extend driving range.

The Karma is the most expensive car Consumer Reports has ever purchased for testing, Fisher said.

Fisker said in July that actor Leonardo DiCaprio, a Karma owner, has invested in the company and would help promote the vehicle.

To contact the reporter on this story: Alan Ohnsman in Los Angeles at aohnsman@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Jamie Butters at jbutters@bloomberg.net


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