By on March 16, 2012

Yesterday, we could report that the fickle Fisker that embarrassingly broke down in Consumer Reports’ driveway, received a new battery, under warranty. Now we hear that it was no breakdown. The Fisker Karma shut itself down intentionally to prevent bigger damage.

“The Karma performed exactly as it was designed to,”  Fisker customers can read in a letter from Fisker CEO Tom LaSorda. The former Chrysler CEO and GM exec goes on to say:

“The onboard diagnostics detected a fault and entered a protection mode that shut the car down to protect other components. We are sorry for the inconvenience this caused the customer.”

According to Reuters, LaSorda put together a “SWAT team” of 50 engineers and other consultants to identify any problems or other issues experienced by Karma owners. New software is being tested “round the clock.”

“As soon as this procedure is complete we will send updated software out,” says the letter.

Consumer Reports maintains that the dealer repair invoice said the problem was “duplicated repeatedly” and a fault was found in the car’s battery and inverter cable. Mr. LaSorda needs to know: Intentional or not, a break down is a breakdown.

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22 Comments on “Fisker’s LaSorda: Instant Karma Breakdown Intentional...”


  • avatar
    doctor olds

    No doubt, a breakdown is a breakdown. LaSorda knows what happened. He is just trying to make lemonade from the lemon by pointing out the onboard diagnostics responded correctly to the physical fault in the vehicle by shutting down propulsion.

    • 0 avatar
      psarhjinian

      “the onboard diagnostics responded correctly to the physical fault in the vehicle by shutting down propulsion”

      I could do this in my old Saab by going uphill and stepping on the gas. Boom: check gearbox!

      That it went into limp mode to protect itself didn’t really make me feel better.

      • 0 avatar
        doctor olds

        @psarhjinian-
        no doubt! sounds like a royal pain. at least it didn’t make you walk home!

        Safety issues aside, the walk home failure mode is considered one of the most serious customer dissatisfiers by manufacturers.

        In Fisker’s case, the default of walk home is still preferable to say a fire, or unintended acceleration, not saying that would have been the case here.
        Work on GM’s two mode hybrid helped me understand the caution needed, particularly with new technology.

      • 0 avatar
        CJinSD

        Safeguards are good. Cautious thresholds with immature technologies are good. Breaking down after 180 miles is bad.

  • avatar
    Syke

    He’s probably handling it well, given how gun shy the public is of electric car safety nowadays. Remember, buy an electric car and someday (possibly after you no longer own it) it could burst into flames and kill you (even if you’re nowhere near the car at the time).

  • avatar
    Franz K

    What a complete and utter pant load from LaSorda

    ” Oh golly gee .. our car didn’t crap out … its just protecting itself from those evil trolls at CR .. so’s they couldn’t do all the unspeakable things they intended on doing with the vehicle ” (e.g. namely testing it to see if it lives up to any of Fiskers claims )

    Fisker = Vapor Ware = Waste of tax payers money = Toss it under the bus please

    So lets see . Who’s the biggest Automotive Manure Spreader for this week ? LaSorda or Akerson ?

    I’ll vote for Akerson , since everything he does has 100 times the impact of anything LaSorda might do . Unfortunately .

    Biggest Automotive Manure Spreader 2012 as of this month ?

    Sergio Marchionne , by a long shot . though don’t bet against someone else catching him before years end

  • avatar
    CJinSD

    “The Karma performed exactly as it was designed to,” suggests that building cars that need to be loaded onto a flatbed after 180 miles was a design objective. Maybe they should have designed them to a different set of parameters.

    • 0 avatar
      boden

      My thoughts exactly. Maybe their systems engineering plan has extraordinary low thresholds for design metrics like “Mean Time Between Failures”, “System Availability” or “Allowable number of Manufacturing Defects”. So your product satisfies your design, to paraphrase Chris Rock: “That’s what you’re supposed to do, dummy! What? do you want a cookie?”. But does the design satisfy the customer need/expectations? That’s the difficult part.

  • avatar
    LeMansteve

    Tom LaSorda, professional at dodging bad press. Tries to spin total vehicle breakdown into something positive.
    Tommy Lasorda, professional Dodger. Son dies of AIDS, insists it was cancer.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tommy_Lasorda

  • avatar
    fincar1

    Of course this brings to mind the possibility of the Karma deciding to shut itself down in the left lane of I-5 in the rain during evening rush hour. “Hey, this is a feature, not a bug….”

  • avatar
    gslippy

    The headline is very misleading.

    He didn’t say the breakdown was intentional; he said the system performed as intended when a certain fault was detected. I’d say it’s much like having a circuit breaker pop in your home, which is much better than having your house burn down.

    There’s a huge gulf between those statements. C’mon, Bertel, you’re better than this.

    I’m sure Fisker will figure out the root cause and fix it.

  • avatar
    Robert.Walter

    Memo to Dr. Karen: A breakdown is a breakdown, even if it is software-related, and esp. when there are 50 engineers working on the topic.

  • avatar
    GS650G

    It’s a lot easier and profitable to just charge the buyer 40K for new batteries, blaming user error.
    Did Fisker know about the failure by GPS signal tracking as well?

  • avatar
    missinginvlissingen

    “The Fisker Karma shut itself down intentionally to prevent bigger damage.”

    What would the bigger damage have been? After the shutdown, the whole battery needed to be replaced. Unless driving the car would have been a fire hazard, what problems were avoided by the car shutting itself down?

    • 0 avatar
      gslippy

      Fire is always the biggest concern with lithium ion batteries. Too much current draw could overheat them and cause a gaseous discharge from the cells, exposing the lithium goo inside.

      A different fire could result if downstream components are exposed to too high (unregulated) voltage or current, but that’s what circuit breakers and fuses are for.

      In this case, Fisker has already traced the problem to the battery pack and cables. It’s interesting to me that they mention the inverter cable; the problem could be as simple as mechanical chafing on a metal part caused it to short to ground. If that’s what happened, you most definitely want the battery pack to shut off. I don’t understand why anyone would want it to ‘just keep going’.

      There’s nary a peep in this blog about Ferrari 458 fires, which burn the car to the ground. Here, a Karma shuts off without a fire and people go crazy.

      • 0 avatar
        ciddyguy

        Bingo! Gslippy I think nailed it.

        Not saying Lasorda is right or wrong, but if you have what appears to be as gslippy described, you’d WANT the car to shut down to prevent further damage, potentially putting you in even more danger.

        That I’d go along with, just as long as the car just doesn’t stop without notice while on the road though as that could cause an accident, which could cause even MORE damage from outside sources.

        Either way, this should NOT happen at 180 miles on the odometer.

      • 0 avatar
        Number6

        I am not subsidizing Ferrari. Yeah, our bought-off senate and presidents make laws that force me to subsidize a lot of Ferrari owners, but I am not subsidizing Ferrari itself.

        A “SWAT” team for damage control…this is laughable. Beta testing hardware on consumers is a recipe for disaster. Funny how there’s always enough time to correct mistakes rather than take the time to keep them from creeping in the first time around. Sounds like my former employer.

  • avatar
    lw

    Bertel is right on…. The CEO is playing a game of failure modes and protection levels….

    Level 1 failed…. But hey let’s talk about level 2 and 3 and 4 that worked great! Let’s talk about all the super engineering that we did to deal with the utter failure of our product.

    Like your tv shutting off during the Super Bowl and being told about how awesome it is that it didn’t explode and fill your chest with shrapnel because our engineers are super smart!


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