Investigators probe whether a Fisker Karma caused Texas house fire
Photo credit: Autoweek
Insurance and fire investigators in suburban Houston are probing a house blaze that destroyed a new Fisker Karma plug-in hybrid car last week.
In a statement to Autoweek, an affiliate of Automotive News, the company said the cause of the fire is unclear and no injuries were reported.
At issue: Did the fire start in the Fisker?
"Last week, Fisker Automotive was made aware of a garage fire involving three vehicles, including a Karma sedan, that were parked at a newly-constructed residence in Sugar Land, Texas," the company statement said.
"There are conflicting reports and uncertainty surrounding this particular incident."
Robert Baker, the chief fire inspector for Fort Bend County, Texas, told Autoweek that the fire started in the Karma.
"Yes, the Karma was the origin of the fire, but what exactly caused that we don't know at this time," he said. The car was a complete loss.
Baker said the driver arrived home in the Fisker, pulled into the garage, and less than three minutes later the car was in flames. It was not plugged in at the time of the fire and the Karma's battery remains intact, Autoweek said.
Baker said the Karma was bought in April. He said there were two other two vehicles in the garage, a Mercedes-Benz SUV and an Acura NSX.
"This looks just like golf cart fires we have down here," said Baker. The suburban Houston area has approximately 50 golf cart fires a year, he said.
"I've worked homicide scenes with less secrecy," Baker added. "There have to be about 15 engineers down here working on this one."
Fisker, in its statement, said multiple insurance investigators are involved, and "we have not ruled out possible fraud or malicious intent."
"We are aware that fireworks were found in the garage in or around the vehicles," the statement said. "Also, an electrical panel located in the garage next to the vehicles is also being examined by the investigators as well as fire department officials.
"Based on initial observations and inspections, the Karma's lithium ion battery pack was not being charged at the time and is still intact and does not appear to have been a contributing factor in this incident."
A Fisker spokesman said the company has sent engineers to the site.
Fisker said it will not comment further on the investigation until it is complete.
Photo credit: Autoweek
Fisker has been grappling with a variety of problems stemming from the $103,000 Karma's battery pack. No fires or injuries have been linked to the battery.
In March, Fisker's battery supplier, A123 Systems, said it would replace the lithium-ion battery packs used in the Karma after the vehicle shut down during a Consumer Reports testing session. The supplier said it discovered defects that could "result in premature failure of the battery module or pack, including a decrease in performance and reduced battery life."
At the time, Fisker said it would extend the Karma's North American warranty from 50 months/50,000 miles to 60 months/60,000 miles.
In December, Fisker Automotive said it is recalling 239 hybrid plug-in cars to fix an earlier defect in the vehicle's high-voltage battery. The recall notice covered all 2012 Karma models manufactured between July 1, 2011, and Nov. 3, 2011. A123 previously sent a notice to customers and investors letting them know of a possible safety problem with the battery's cooling system.
David Arnouts of Autoweek, Philip Nussel of Automotive News and Reuters contributed to this story.
Statement from attorneys representing Fisker owner Jeremy Gutierrez
Editor's note: Autoweek, an affiliate of Automotive News, received the following statement from the attorneys representing the Fisker Karma owner, Jeremy Gutierrez. The statement is reproduced below.
Houston, Texas, May 9, 2012 – On the afternoon of May 2, 2012, Mr. Jeremy Gutierrez's brand new Fisker Karma hybrid electric vehicle caught fire while parked in his garage, setting fire to his home while his wife, mother, and child were inside. Thanks to the fast action of Mr. Gutierrez, he was able to evacuate his family from the home moments before portions of the house were engulfed in flames, including his child's bedroom.
The Fort Bend County Fire Department immediately responded to the scene and as able to contain and extinguish the fire before total destruction of the Gutierrez's family home. The fire department recently completed their investigation and determined the origin of the fire was, in fact, Gutierrez's newly purchased Fisker Karma hybrid electric vehicle that he just took possession of two weeks earlier. Chief Investigator for the Fort Bend County Fire Marshal's Office Robert N. Baker has concluded that the fire was accidental in nature.
Since the date of this incident, Mr. Gutierrez has been fully cooperative with public safety officials, as well as insurance adjusters and the vehicle manufacturer's investigators. In fact, Mr. Gutierrez fully accommodated the precise and somewhat peculiar demands of Fisker Automotive, who sent their self-proclaimed “SWAT Team” of engineers and inspectors (that included their own forensic cause and origin investigator) to the Gutierrez home within 24 hours of the fire. They descended upon the Gutierrez home in alarming numbers and immediately demanded a 24-hour lock-down of his home, including the remains of the Fisker Karma vehicle.
They also cordoned off portions of the Gutierrez home with non-transparent tarps to block the view from the public. Fisker even had access to eyewitnesses, who were interviewed by Fisker investigators and those investigators were shown video footage of the Fisker vehicle on fire before and other part of the garage. Mr. Gutierrez accommodated every request with the hope of have a full, fair and open inquiry into the cause of the Fisker vehicle fire that set his house ablaze and endangered his family.
Despite the fact public safety and law enforcement officials have determined Mr. Gutierrez's home and vehicles are not a crime scene, Fisker Automotive released a public statement on May 8, 2012 implying fraud or malicious intent were open questions. The family is stunned by this implication. The Gutierrez family has afforded every accommodation to Fisker and access to all evidence that public safety and law enforcement official examined. Fisker's statement is a grave disappointment, especially in light of the damages the family suffered and continues to suffer.
The Gutierrez family has suffered enough. They are temporarily displaced from their home, and have lost three vehicles. They value their privacy and wish to have this investigation completed immediately so they can return to their home. The law firm of Johnson, Trent, West & Taylor, L.L.P., a Houston-based law firm, has and will continue to represent the Gutierrez family during this time.