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This past May, when a two month old Fisker Karma caught fire and started a house fire in Texas, electric vehicle expert Jon Bereisa suggested that a cramped engine compartment and excess heat most likely caused the fire, not the car’s battery pack. Now, Jalopnik reports that yesterday evening a second Fisker Karma caught fire and burned in Woodside, California, while the owner was grocery shopping. From the published photos and video recorded by a witness, Aaron Wood, the fire was in the front of the car, possibly starting in the engine compartment or near where the exhaust exits. Because the car’s battery pack takes up so much space the exhaust for the Karma’s combustion engine is routed to exit just behind the front wheels, as can be seen in this photo from Edmunds. In Woods’ photos and video the firefighters can be seen directing water behind the driver’s side front wheel. The location of the most recent Fisker fire seems to support Bereisa’s thesis.
As one of the world’s experts on electric cars, Bereisa’s remarks carry some weight. He’s currently the CEO of Auto Lectrification, a consulting firm, but before starting his own business he was the systems architect for the Chevy Volt, and prior to that he was the chief engineer of General Motors’ pioneering EV1 electric car. In May, Bereisa told Automotive News about the Karma:
“That engine is shoehorned into that bay, because they had to use a larger engine, because it was too heavy a car. As a result, there’s no room for exhaust routing and heat shielding to route the heat away… [the Karma is] using the hell out of that motor-generator.”
Bereisa also noted how tightly packed the exhaust system is. In those circumstances leaking fuel, oil, or even coolant (glycol is flammable) could ignite from heat or a hot surface.
Since the Karma that burned in Texas had just been driven on errands, Bereisa said that the battery pack was likely drained and no longer contained enough energy or waste heat hot enough to ignite. “If the [battery] pack were to burn down the car, you would see where it started and reached the [battery] case… There’s more odds that it’s a conventional, heat-related problem in packaging and heat-related leaks.”
Those remarks may as well apply to the Karma that just burned in California. It was being used as a grocery getter so it was likely that its battery pack was also not at full charge.
Fisker issued a statement to Jalopnik:
We have confidence in the Fisker Karma. Safety is our primary concern and our Fisker staff have been in contact with the customer and are investigating the cause. We are also employing an independent fire investigation representative to assist in the root cause analysis. A further statement will be issued once the root cause has been determined.