While the investigation of the Fisker Karma that toasted a Texas garage is not over, pundits have begun to weigh in. Automotive News has found a particularly credible one in Jon Bereisa, CEO of Auto Lectrification and the chief engineer of the General Motors EV1 and systems architect for the Chevrolet Volt. And according to Bereisa, the poor packaging of the Karma's internal combustion engine is what likely caused the fire.

"The engine is shoehorned into that bay, because they had to use a larger engine, because it was too heavy a car," Bereisa told AN. "As a result, there's no room for exhaust routing and heat shielding to route the heat away."

The Karma uses a turbocharged, 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine sourced from GM. In the Karma, however, the Ecotec does not drive the wheels, but acts as a generator to supplement and recharge the batteries. The report says that a fluid leak, combined with tight engine compartment confines and the resultant high heat from the gasoline engine's exhaust and the would have been enough to cause the fire.

Fisker is maintaining that it is not the car's battery pack that is at fault, and has pointed to other potential sources of the blaze, according to the report, telling AN that, "There are myriad combustible materials that could be in the garage, in the wheel arch, or picked up on the roadside."

UPDATE: Fisker has released an official statement regarding this story. Scroll down to read it.
Show full PR text
Media Statement: Fisker Karma Engineering
Anaheim, CA – May 11, 2012

Fisker Automotive has noted unfounded allegations, reported in the media, about the engine compartment layout of its Karma model. The manufacturer of the world's first extended range luxury electric vehicle has received full technical and safety certification for all systems developed and installed in the Karma. That certification followed extreme testing of the vehicle, involving laboratory simulations of thermal incidents and on-the-road tests in extreme climate conditions. No incidents of any kind involving engine systems were found.

Paul Boskovitch, Director of Powertrain & Engineering of Fisker Automotive, said: "Our technologies and engine design have been fully tested and certified at the highest level. It is irresponsible and ill-informed for technology pundits to suggest otherwise in order to secure media attention for unfounded claims."

Background: The Karma under-hood thermal environment was designed using the latest Computational Fluid Dynamic (CFD) software packages. Evaluations of the results were performed both by the Fisker Thermal team and external consultants.

Testing involved thorough road and lab exercises, including multiple hot weather trips over thousands of miles of incident-free operation in Death Valley and Palm Springs, CA. Additional testing was also performed successfully at maximum and sustained speeds (125mph/201km/hr) on the Autobahn in Germany.

In addition to road-use testing, further wind tunnel testing was completed at test Labs in the USA. These tests were run specifically to simulate the most difficult of conditions, those observed in the Middle East (GCC) and Africa.

Testing for these hot weather conditions was run according to the manufacturer's engine specifications for the 2-liter Ecotec engine installed in the Karma. The attached Table shows the conditions for typical vehicle tests by region. As indicated, the tests adopted for the Fisker Karma were conducted under the most stringent applications for the Middle East & Africa.

The Fisker Karma passed all tests without incident.



Cooling algorithms have been developed to ensure that at power off and under certain conditions the vehicle cooling fan maintains circulation in the engine compartment in order to remove any excess heat.

Packaging of the engine and surrounding components has been done within competitive benchmark standards and heat protection sleeves are placed on and around all hoses in or near high heat zones. All exhaust components have properly engineered heat shields and maintain the recommended separation distance between the shield, shielded components and affected components.

Fisker is using DEX-COOL 50/50 coolant with a zero flammability rating, according to the Chevron Manufacturers Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) #10445. This means that under no conditions is this material flammable.

The brake system booster which contains the brake system fluid is in a protected region behind the fender on the "cold" side of the engine. The power steering pump and fluid are also located on the "cold" side of the engine, near the front of the vehicle.

All materials used in the underhood environment are rated for use in the engine compartment and are either non-flammable or flame-retardant.

Operation of the engine on-cycle has been thoroughly explained in public literature and utilizes a load-following operation. During this operation acceleration events are augmented by the battery and the engine operates along the load curves at or less than would be observed during operation in its original design application. In the Karma application the engine is never required to operate beyond 3500 RPM with a maximum output capability of 128 kW at this operating point. Well below the rated power of this engine with a maximum output power of 194 kW.

The Fisker Karma is an advanced technology vehicle and utilizes a control strategy that focuses on fuel efficiency as well as thermal and energy management. The engine power required at 125 mph (top speed) is less than 115 kW, well below the maximum capability of the engine for continuous operation. In addition the engine controls maintain a thermal watch of the engine and at a temperature of 117C begins to limit power in order to maintain coolant temperature below this point. This is well below the engine manufacturer's recommended maximum temperature rating of 127C.


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  • 56 Comments
      sportsnut53103
      • 2 Years Ago
      I love this car, but boy...This this thing is failing bigtime. I think Fisker rushed these vehicles out way to fast and just needs time to work out all the kinks. Hopefully, that doesn't come at their customer's expense. They'll get it right, eventually.
      er2blu
      • 2 Years Ago
      From this and other reports, sounds like this car was a little prematurely rushed to market. Some of this is might be somewhat more tolerable with a new design and all but when it costs $ 105K... that has to be a real pisser.. About now some of the owners may be asking... "Where did I park the Mercedes?"
      ddokken69
      • 2 Years Ago
      Hell as an auto shop own and mechanic for 30+ years its really surprizing that it took this long for something like this to happen. I bet that most of the so-called designers of these cars NEVER have had a wrench in their hands because there are hundreds of different makes and models of crap out there that people pay dearly for because most of the issues that require fixing are placed in either hard to get to places or that could have and should have been easier to get to. I REALLY wonder some times if its done on purpose to keep the backyard mechanic from being able to work on them and require the car to be taken either to a shop or back to the last place in the world you EVER want to take your car is back to the dealer.
      1040advocate
      • 2 Years Ago
      Turbos run RED HOT literally, if the driver was flat footin it for a few miles, then quickly parked the car, I can see it catching on fire..
      • 2 Years Ago
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        Car Guy
        • 2 Years Ago
        There is no engineering here. It's just a design exercise with a bunch of off-the-shelf parts slapped together. This car is not ready for prime time and it shows. I've looked at a supposed "Production" Karma and their shabby craftsmanship and poor fit-and-finish is glaring, $10K sub-compacts have better quality than this thing.
      • 2 Years Ago
      [blocked]
        Gubbins
        • 2 Years Ago
        Yes indeed, imagine an actual engineer saying something heretical like that... This is what happens when novices in a hurry launch a car with immature technology before proper development is carried out. I bet the underhood temps are incredible, especially since that turbo will be on boost a lot more often hauling all that weight around.
          Classic_Engr
          • 2 Years Ago
          @Gubbins
          The turbo is not "on boost a lot more often hauling all that weight around." The engine is only on when required to turn the electric generator. The electric motors haul all that weight around.
      Silly Pickle
      • 2 Years Ago
      "There are myriad combustible materials that could be in the garage, in the wheel arch, or picked up on the roadside." Say what? WTF could you POSSIBLY pick up on the roadside that would cause your car to start on fire? Someone please enlighten me. A 15 day dead bicycler maybe? His backpack? Skunk guts...a cardboard box...a jerry can full of gas and a stick of dynamite? What, 'cause I am confused by that. Or did you drive over that box from the wife's new coffee maker and forget you did? Maybe placed a pile of oily rags 2' deep on the floor right smack under the engine, you know, to catch the dripping battery acid or something...just in case. Sheesh Fisker, just admit it, you f'd up. The fix is installing an LS6 and a 6 spd. And maybe wrapping the exhaust in heat tape, or Kevlar...something.
      • 2 Years Ago
      [blocked]
        Jason Allen
        • 2 Years Ago
        But you are an idiot so... that means I'll buy a karma now. What else don't you like?
      Classic_Engr
      • 2 Years Ago
      So from an engineering standpoint, it appears that an internal combustion engine leaked fluid that may have caused the fire. The root cause is still unknown. That Fisker "Can't catch a break" is right. I'm no hybrid geek, but if this had been any other car, this news wouldn't make the local Fort Bend Southwest Star newspaper. "GMCpick-up causes garage fire due to leak from GM engine." Big deal. All new tech has issues, especially anthing requiring several dozen subsystems to work together. The first iPhones were kinda sucky at times. But the new ones are great. These thing evolve over time. But because this is one of "them there evil hybrid cars", people demonize the situation and whip out their pitch forks. Hasn't anyone here read Arthur Miller's "The Crucible?" Perhaps I give the AB audience too much literary credit. It's been over 400 years since the Salem Witch Trials. Yet despite all of our advances in technology, equipping us with smartphones, iPads, etc., much of our society is regressing to that same Salem state of mind. It appears that our culture still has a long way to go before it can really be considered "advanced."
        ZenDriver
        • 2 Years Ago
        @Classic_Engr
        "Yet despite all of our advances in technology, equipping us with smartphones, iPads, etc., much of our society is regressing to that same Salem state of mind. It appears that our culture still has a long way to go before it can really be considered "advanced." Bravo to that. Fear rules the day for many in 2012. In 2412, I wonder how we will look back on today's mob mentality as it set the internet ablaze with their online torches and poked innovators with their online pitch forks.
      Jeremy Pennini
      • 2 Years Ago
      Seems like the bean counters took the initiative on the engine choice. Looking for the most interesting, small, and cheap engine. DI Turbo: Interesting 2.0L: Small GM: Cheap All the boxes checked. Engineers: make it fit.
      Dwight Bynum Jr.
      • 2 Years Ago
      "The report says that a fluid leak, combined with tight engine compartment confines and the resultant high heat from the gasoline engine's exhaust and the would have been enough to cause the fire." Sounds to me like the fluid leak was to blame, not the packaging. If the packaging was to blame, every single Karma that was ever driven would have burned up by now. Obviously it works out just fine when something isn't leaking...
      jfa1177
      • 2 Years Ago
      "There are myriad combustible materials that could be in the garage, in the wheel arch, or picked up on the roadside." Talk about grabbing at straws.... geeze what a lame argument for a poorly engineered POS that should have never seen the light of day.
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