‘Karma’: $107k plug-in hybrid dies on test track, automaker got $528m US loan guarantee

David Martosko Executive Editor
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The Fisker Karma is a plug-in hybrid car that seems to have everything the rich and famous — and environmentally correct — look for in a set of wheels. Sleek silhouette? Check. Green cred? Check. Six-figure price tag? Check.

Reliable battery? Not so fast.

In a test conducted Wednesday by Consumer Reports magazine, the niche-market $107,850 sports car conked out completely, after a short ride at 65 miles per hour on a Connecticut test track.

“Our Fisker Karma … is super sleek, high-tech — and now it’s broken,” Consumer Reports wrote on its website late Thursday.

“We have owned our car for just a few days; it has less than 200 miles on its odometer … We buy about 80 cars a year and this is the first time in memory that we have had a car that is undriveable before it has finished our check-in process.”

A Consumer Reports video shows a flatbed truck, sent by the Fisker dealer who sold the car, preparing to tow it away.


David Champion, who runs the magazine’s automotive test center, told Reuters that “[d]uring the gentle run down the track, a light on the dashboard came on.”

The light signaled battery trouble, and the car wouldn’t restart after the test driver parked it.

“It is a little disconcerting that you pay that amount of money for a car and it lasts basically 180 miles before going wrong,” Champion said.

The company plans to build a sedan at a former General Motors plant in Delaware, which it now owns.

When Fisker opened that plant in 2009, Vice President Joe Biden credited “a real commitment by this Administration, loans from the Department of Energy, [and] the creativity of U.S. companies.”

Energy Secretary Stephen Chu claimed, in the same press release, that the plant’s reopening was “proof positive that our efforts to create new jobs, invest in a clean energy economy and reduce carbon pollution are working.”

In September 2009, Chu announced a $528.7 million loan guarantee for Fisker, specifically to develop its two plug-in hybrid cars. The Obama administration said at the time that $359 million of that loan would help reopen the Delaware factory.

The White House also announced in 2009 that Fisker “estimates it will build 75,000-100,000 of these highly efficient vehicles every year by 2014.”

Fisker has sold just over 400 of the Finland-built Karma cars to date.

Last month, with the memory of the Solyndra loan-guarantee scandal still fresh, the U.S. government froze Fisker’s access to the loan funds, citing the company’s failure to meet intermediate milestones.

“They won’t release any more money, given where they’re at with the programs,” company spokesman Roger Ormisher told Bloomberg News on Feb. 7.

Tesla Motors, another electric-car pioneer whose main investors include Google co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin and PayPal co-founder Elon Musk, also received a $465 million government loan guarantee.

Its signature car sells for $109,000.

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