The Fisker Karma extended-range electric vehicle has garnered more attention than any start-up vehicle in the past decade, from being Justin Bieber's birthday present to political hits over its $529 million federal loan. Now, a large number of early adopters report several problems with their Karmas, from minor software glitches to cars that won't start or black out on the road. Chief among them: Consumer Reports, which bought a $107,000 Karma only to have it stall in less than 200 miles.
What's notable about the Consumer Reports failure is that it didn't buy the car with Fisker's input. The magazine runs a secret shopper operation to buy all of its cars anonymously at dealerships, so that manufacturers can't slip it a special order that's been prepped for testing. Consumer Reports says their Karma went bad after a warning light flashed during an initial drive; when they parked the car, the transmission refused to shift. "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," the magazine said.
But Consumer Reports isn't the only Fisker Karma owner reporting glitches. A quick glance through the major owner's forums shows a variety of reported ills, many involving the software that runs the dash display and the sedan's complicated power system. While many seem minor, a few raise safety concerns, like this one posted Tuesday:
Driving at 7pm pst this evening and for the second time in two weeks at 70 miles per hour the "idiot lights" behind the steering wheel all light up the car goes dark including the headlights and then the dash disappears and after a few seconds it rebuilds itself. This is very dangerous and random...This condition is a safety issue and an accident/lawsuit waiting to happen.
Fisker has already recalled the Karma once for a safety defect; any potential defect could hurt sales, raise costs and even bring the ire of federal regulators, who have taken a tougher stand against automakers who delay on reporting problems.
And even less serious repairs can damage Fisker's business. One southern California owner has started blogging about their Karma, which they say needs a new differential after a coupling broke:
"As of today (March 6, 2012) Fisker Silicon Valley has had my Karma "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."
Company founder Henrik Fisker has already made one round of phone calls to every Karma owner apologizing for glitches and promising to fix any outstanding issues. Based on the experience owners are having, Fisker has more explaining ahead.