By on August 11, 2012
Flambéed Fisker- - photo courtesy of Aaron Wood

Fisker Karma Fire, Woodside, CA – Photo Courtesy of Aaron Wood

A second Fisker Karma has been reported by Jalopnik to have caught fire and burned yesterday. The owner returned with his groceries to find the car in flames in a Woodside, California parking lot. Interestingly, he first called Fisker who advised him, wisely, to call 911. Back in May, after a Karma started a house fire in Texas, engineer John Bereisa said that the proximate cause of that fire was likely heat, the result of tight engine packaging. The ultimate cause, he suggested, was the hybrid vehicle’s weight, which Bereisa said necessitated a larger, more powerful combustion engine to power the car’s generator that charges the batteries for extended range use. Bereisa is one of the world’s experts on building electric and hybrid cars.

In May, Bereisa told Automotive News:

“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.

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.

Ronnie Schreiber edits Cars In Depth, a realistic perspective on cars & car culture and the original 3D car site. If you found this post worthwhile, you can dig deeper at Cars In Depth. If the 3D thing freaks you out, don’t worry, all the photo and video players in use at the site have mono options. Thanks for reading– RJS

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77 Comments on “Second Fisker Karma Burns – Did EV1/Volt Engineer Predict Cause?...”

  • avatar
    el scotto

    Woodside? Not exactly a cross sample of America.

  • avatar

    Fisker has some really smart PR people. Deny, Deny, Deny.

    Too bad, really. I really like the car on paper.

  • avatar

    Stick a fork in Fisker – they are done. Game over.

    And comparisons to the Chevy Volt even though the packaging, engineering, engine, cooling, exhaust, and when/how/what engine runs is completely different in 3, 2, 1…

    popping some popcorn.

    • 0 avatar

      Yeah, Fisker should have done much more testing. Of course an IC engine’s exhaust gets burning hot. It’s like the designers never worked on a car before! I have a lot more faith in GM to know how to do this stuff.

      • 0 avatar

        > It’s like the designers never worked on a car before!

        Amazing. How do you know??

        Really, suggestive power of the Internet is scary. Someone expresses his thoughts in a convincing manner and suddenly everyone believes him, without a hint of doubt or afterthought.

        First Karma ignited when stationary, likely for longer. Claiming that a tightly packaged, red hot exhaust initiated fire after the engine has been shut down some time is a very interesting statement. Gets even better when raising the suspicion of some fluid leak. Again, pressures like to drop when turning the car off but, well, this is just me.

        Second Karma burned when parked (again, stationary and engine off) during grocery shopping. Groceries like to be rather close than far away so the car has been more likely propelled by battery rather than engine power.

        PS. Dodge Viper also had side exhaust, it even melted plastics around itself. So had various Sagaris models. Did any of these cars had serious fire issues? No.

        Being polite then, I’d consider this Bereisa guy’s suggestions as “unfounded” at best. Why is everyone swallowing them like gullible gulls is beyond me.

      • 0 avatar

        I agree with you Toucan. Having worked on plenty of cars that were spraying all sorts of fluid onto their exhaust without anything more than an annoying burning smell. All the fire cars I have worked on usually are the result of an electric fire.

  • avatar

    Styling over substance. The look of the car was more important than the engineering of the car. Luckily the only people buying are people who can have one as a toy.

    Beautiful car to look at. Pity about the rest of it.

    • 0 avatar

      Yep, and just because connecting the two is somehow unavoidable, that is one of the key differences with the Volt. It may look boring, but the Chevy works like its supposed to and is a practical, reliable, and fairly safe car (provided you’re not still sitting in it 2 weeks after a crash).

      • 0 avatar

        TheVolt is a compact car with a hatchback that costs over $40,000. Without subsidy. NOTHING PRACTICAL ABOUT IT.

        Buy a Chevy Cruze instead.

      • 0 avatar

        Yeah, I thought at first that the Volt would really catch on with the public, but I think that the price scares off a lot of potential buyers because you can get TWO Cruzes for the price of one Volt.

        And the $7500 tax credit only applies if you pay at least $7500 in taxes, so that lets out at least 50% of the people in America who pay NO taxes at all.

        For the masses there are always the Prius line of vehicles. And sales data shows Prius continues to sell. All the others, including Fisker, are niche vehicles with a very small, well-heeled following.

      • 0 avatar

        The Volt is actually a pretty damn good product, IMO, but battery technology in terms of reliable range even in extreme temperatures has to mature quite a bit more before it can make a compelling economic, rather than purely “look at me, I’m eco-friendly,” decision.

        For all but a few people who live in very densely populated cities, don’t stray too far from home, and don’t drive that many miles each year, the same can be said of the Nissan Leaf.

      • 0 avatar

        Knowing how hard it is for established but small companies like Lotus to meet all the various safety and emissions standards, I’ve been skeptical about automotive startups having the resources to do the level of development that a modern car has. In addition to those concerns, the Karma was rushed to production in order to meet benchmarks attached to half a billion dollars in government loans. The Volt, in contrast, was criticized for taking too long to get to market – introduced as a concept in early 2007 and only on sale in limited markets at the end of 2010. From talking to Volt owners I’m pretty sure that GM sweated the details on the Volt as they have done with no other car. It’s arguably the best developed car ever made in Detroit.

        Also, since we’re on the topic of car fires and quality control, most of the controversy regarding the Volt and fire surrounded a vehicle that was being crash tested by NHTSA. One Volt in private hands did burn in a house fire but investigators traced the cause of the fire to something other than the Volt. So far two Karmas belonging to customers have combusted spontaneously, Consumers Reports’ Karma died on them, and cars in customers’ hands have had to have their batteries replaced under recall. Can you recall a single issue that the Volt has had outside of the ginned up fire thing?

        Just as a point of information, when NHTSA crash tests gasoline and diesel powered cars, not only are the fuel tanks emptied but the 12V battery is disconnected. The Volt was tested fully charged. If they tested conventional cars the way they tested the Volt, NHTSA would be having fires every day.

      • 0 avatar

        “arguably the best developed car ever made in Detroit.”

        I agree with that, and that’s why I thought that a lot more people would be standing in line to buy one.

        IMO, it boils down to the cost factor that they did not. Gas is plentiful and the Volt, Karma, Leaf and others of that theme are for well-heeled “believers”.

        Joe Sixpack and Sally Homemaker will go with TWO Cruzes or a Prius before they go with a Volt, Tesla, Karma or Leaf.

      • 0 avatar

        Ultimately, the Volt has to function in the real world, not the NHTSA crash lab. Even friendly magazines have had trouble with the current draw of the Volt frying metering devices they tried using to quantify the Volt’s consumption. Extension cords have burnt. People will find their power distribution grids tested as never before, and the more accessible electric cars become, the more charging connections will be found wanting and cause fires. Good.

      • 0 avatar

        ……And the $7500 tax credit only applies if you pay at least $7500 in taxes, so that lets out at least 50% of the people in America who pay NO taxes at all……

        Yeah, those POS poor people. Even without paying taxes they can’t afford a new car, let alone a Volt. Maybe if the top 1% paid the same percentage in tax as the middle class we wouldn’t have such cash flow problems (Inset any anti-Obama comment you see fit HERE). Of course one could counter that maybe Obama prevented a Great Depression II but I’m sure there is a canned Glen Beck response for that, too.

        ……have had trouble with the current draw of the Volt frying metering devices they tried using to quantify the Volt’s consumption. Extension cords have burnt. People will find their power distribution grids tested as never before……

        One good thing about the laws of physics is that they don’t have a political agenda. An electrical load has a certain profile to it, and the wiring has to be able to deal with it, whether it is a simple resistive load like a toaster or a harmonic rich load like 200 computer power supplies. Office buildings and early box stores had issues with overloaded neutral conductors overheating and burning up due to the heavy concentration of harmonics. The code was adapted, and the problem has been dealt with. I don’t know the characteristics of the Volt’s load, other than it’s high ampeage draw. This will heat up marginal electrical components in the same manner that a redneck A/C hookup will. High amperage loads need proper connection no matter what the load is. And premium quality cords supplied by the car maker is only part of the equation. That super duty cord plugged into a power strip or a worn out loose receptacle is going to get mighty hot. It is amazing how well the NEC has been at preventing fires when you consider how ill informed most are when it comes to electrical safety.

      • 0 avatar


        I think the real problem is that American jobs have been shipped to India and China. Regardless the tax rates, if you have more people working, it isn’t such a big deal.

        The other problem is that the Housing market sucked up many American’s wealth and shredded it and that the government spent more than $40,000 EVERY SINGLE SECOND between wars and social services.

        Tax raising doesn’t mean nothin’ unless we cut back government spending. I wanna start with the wars. There simply CAN’T be any terrorists left that pose a threat if we pull back and spend that money on domestic policework.

      • 0 avatar

        golden2husky, an individual’s politics really have no bearing on their lifestyle unless it affects their wallet. If a person is unemployed or has a dismal outlook toward the future, it affects their wallet. Lotta people in that boat now.

        There will always be poor people and there will always be rich people. What matters is how each cultivates their own financial and other resources to live their lives. The goal of most poor people is to move up to where the rich people are. All they want is an opportunity to excel, or fail.

        My parents were legal immigrants to the US after WWII and were dirt poor. I was born here and I am infinitely better off than my parents were when they were my age.

        And I did it all legally. I was given the opportunity to serve my country and after 20 years I had the opportunity to build a home and a life, and I seized it. In life, you’ve got to keep your eye on the donut, not the hole. I never lost sight of the donut.

        So the mindset for the people of today, regardless of their social status, is how well off they are. In today’s economy we have a lot of people unemployed, and a lot of people that do not have to pay income taxes because of our current tax laws.

        The rich pay exactly what the laws compel them to do, but raising the taxes on the rich is out of kilter with what America stands for. Putting more people to work thereby increasing the tax base is what’s important here. That’s hasn’t happened in the past three-plus years.

        The current administration is more concerned with spreading America’s existing wealth around than it is with creating an environment that stimulates economic growth and business expansion, thereby increasing America’s wealth.

        That’s why so many people have learned to live ‘around’ government and the tax laws. They by-pass the government. It isn’t to their benefit to support the current administration’s economic policies. Many make plenty of money without declaring it, and pay no taxes at all.

        That’s why so many people who do have money keep it under their mattress, a safe at home or in safety deposit boxes, so there is no record of it anywhere.

        You are entitled to your views, no one is denying you that. And for the people standing in Obama’s welfare line, life is good. Hell, life is great! Just ask the UAW!

        No need to go to work, although there are millions of good-paying jobs in America today that go unfilled. Obama and the ‘crats will provide, at the expense of the corporations and the rich. Why go work when you can get money for nuthin’ and foodstamps for free?

        Unless the economy grows and new jobs become available, we’re going to see more people who want to buy a Volt or other EV, skip the opportunity because the future outlook for America is as clear as mud.

        No one who does not pay at least $7500 in federal taxes is going to buy that Volt because they cannot claim the tax credit. No gain there.

        Having said that, I want to point out that Romney is not going to get elected and we should brace ourselves for four more years with Obama. Obama’s got this thing in the bag.

        No self-respecting Independent like myself is going to vote for Romney or Obama. It will all be up to the Dems and Repubs to sort this thing out on election day this November.

        Paul Ryan is no gain either since everyone within 10 years of drawing social security is going to see the benefits they paid for all their lives reduced to even less of what it is now with Ryan’s budget plan.

        And we’re already seeing many doctors and practicioners bailing out and retiring early to get away from Obamacare. It’s a lose/lose proposition no matter which way we choose to go.

        IMO, the US economy after a second term of Obama is going to be in really bad shape by 2016. I mean in REALLY bad shape!!! Worse than it is now.

        There is no way Obama can continue to bleed the haves and redistribute America’s wealth to the have-nots without the haves deserting this sinking ship. Many already have.

        The name of the game is to sell cars, EVs, Hybrids, PHEVs, whatever. That becomes increasingly hard to do if you live in constant fear of losing your job, your home and your life.

        But at least you have a welfare check, Obamacare through Medicaid, if you can find a doctor to treat you. And if you survive the long wait before you can be seen.

        So life goes on, differently than most Americans envisioned it, but life does go on.

      • 0 avatar

        “arguably the best developed car ever made in Detroit.”

        Agreed, however that isn’t saying much to be honest.

      • 0 avatar
        sunridge place

        Classic HDC rambling statements with the following thoughts in the same post:

        ‘The rich pay exactly what the laws compel them to do’

        and then…

        ‘That’s why so many people have learned to live ‘around’ government and the tax laws. They by-pass the government. It isn’t to their benefit to support the current administration’s economic policies. Many make plenty of money without declaring it, and pay no taxes at all’

        Wow….what patriots those people are! And, there are millions of unfilled jobs out there that people living the ‘good life’ on unemployment don’t take because the ‘good life’ of unemployment it just that good?

        Which is it? In one post you say there are millions of unfilled jobs but yet then a sentence later you say:

        ‘Unless the economy grows and new jobs become available…’

        No comprendo.

  • avatar

    I for one look forward to EVs bursting into flames. It supports my arguments regarding my disdain for EVs.

    I test drove the Karma and made a video about it. I was so excited until I realized what an absolute waste it was. 5000 pounds (plus) and 0-60 takes forever. If they’d took all that electric crap out and dropped a Twin turbo V6 in, it would weigh about 1000 pounds less and be a really awesome car.

    If only a few more of these cars explode, you can totally forget about posh apartment buildings letting rich people charge their cars inside the basement. Many buildings here in NYC don’t allow it already.

    • 0 avatar

      And ICE powered cars never catch fire ? As the article points out, it was probably the ICE bit of the powertrain that caused the fire. If the Karma had been a plug-in EV like the Leaf it would be happily bricked five miles from the guy’s home right about now.

      • 0 avatar

        ICE typically don’t catch fire unless there is serious faulty wiring. Most likely the Karma’s battery exploded. I’ve driven the Karma over a week and the car never turns itself completely off. The air conditioner for the battery runs continuously.

      • 0 avatar

        What car today “completely” turns itself off. Every modern car is drawing from battery sources long after the key is pulled. Telematics, alarms, monitoring systems, data storage, communications.

        Fords burst into flames hours, days after they are parked because the cruise control modules could remain energized.

        Engine fires happen all the time due to coolant, fuel, tranny fluid and oil leaks – or even due to sloppy mechanics not cleaning up post maintenance.

        The issue is Fisker is using a GM 2.0L EOTEC turbo 4 to charge the batteries and they packed the engine in so tight that it gets too hot. The engine is being forced to run at high output to drag around a 5,000 pound “hybrid.” A few drops of antifreeze, oil, lubricant, or gas and thank you for playing – the heat has no where to go, there is margin for error for spills or leaks.

        It appears the Karma itself has a fatal design flaw, that won’t be easy to solve.

        Further we have concrete proof that this was not a battery fire.

        We do?

        Yes. We do. Watch the video. Notice what the fire fighters used to put out the fire.

        Water. Not foam. When I was in chemistry class I learned, Lithium heats up and starts to burn all by itself when it gets wet. A ruptured overheated burning battery pack with buckets of water being poured on it – would just get hotter.

        But wait, there is more proof.

        Everything you wanted to know about a Fisker Karma if you’re in EMS. Notice where the gasoline engine is? In the front. Where the fire is. Notice where the battery is? Between the driver and the passenger, front and rear, and aft in front of the rear axle. Notice where the charging point is? Also aft, past the rear axle.

        Car is totally involved up front.

        This is an engine bay fire my friend.

      • 0 avatar

        at the end of the day, all the stuff we type doesn’t matter.

        What matters is who is willing to make a check payable to____.

        I’m betting that fewer checks will be made out to Fisker when this story escalates.

      • 0 avatar


        I’m no expert but I’ve been following fire related recalls since fire safety got attached to the Volt (unfairly, I believe). While wiring problems do create fire hazards, they’re not the only cause. The Pontiac Fiero had a fire issue because of oil leaks and hot exhaust pipes. Conventional cars use flammable liquids and have lots of hot surfaces. That’s a recipe for fire hazard even without adding electricity.

      • 0 avatar

        When an I.C.E catches fire, its shoddy worksmanship.

        When an EV catches fire, it’s a weekend.

      • 0 avatar


        ….This is an engine bay fire my friend….

        That entire post is, from the best anybody can do/know from behind a keyboard is 100% spot on. Amazing how people who probably are pretty damn smart get poisoned by their own political agenda.

      • 0 avatar

        “ICE typically don’t catch fire unless there is serious faulty wiring”

        I realize that you’re one of those guys who likes to have very strong opinions based upon a whole lot of nothing, but mechanical failure is the leading cause of vehicle fires. For every one with an electrical cause, two are mechanical.

        And just a thought, but if the fire started under the hood, then it isn’t likely to have been caused by the battery. A flammable fluid hitting a hot part is a far more plausible cause.

      • 0 avatar


        … Or the fact I drove the car and had it for a few days.

        Did you?

      • 0 avatar

        “… Or the fact I drove the car and had it for a few days.”

        Driving over a bridge wouldn’t turn you into a civil engineer.

        Watching the Olympics on TV wouldn’t turn you an athlete.

        I hate to break it to you, but taking a Karma for a spin around the block didn’t turn you into an engineer.

        Here’s a big hint: the Karma’s battery is located under the passenger compartment. If the battery caught fire, then you’d expect the fire to be in or under the passenger compartment.

        Since this fire was under the hood, where the battery isn’t located, then there isn’t much reason to believe that the battery is the culprit.

        I suppose that it’s possible that the Karma’s battery is like a dragon, and spits out fire into the engine compartment. But that just doesn’t seem likely, now does it?

      • 0 avatar


        And replying to a comment doesn’t make you an expert.

        I’ll say it again…in the end of the day, the only thing that matters is who signs the check and hands it to the car company.

    • 0 avatar

      If you’re right, the turbo V6 would still be a 4000+ pound car. That would be way too heavy to be an awesome car, if it was marketed as a sporty or GT car that it looks like it ought to be.

      • 0 avatar

        Ya, that 4000 pound Pontiac G8 GXP was a real pig on the test track – and sloooooooooooow. I mean come on, 0 to 60 in 4.7 seconds is FOR-EVER man and road holding of .90 — bah, a Ford F-350 can do that.

      • 0 avatar

        A Twin Turbo V6 would make the Fisker the equivalent of a slightly faster Taurus SHO.

        A twin Turbo V8 would make it as fast as a Mercedes CLS.

        Then again, without all that battery stuff and the ecotec engine, I think it could shed more than 1500 pounds. It’s not a very heavy car otherwise.

  • avatar

    Can someone from TTAC please warn Justin Bieber?

    Life of many won’t make sense anymore if something happens to him.

    PS. Catching fire does not affect vehicle image negatively. Proof: Ferrari 458 Italia.

  • avatar

    I wish Fisker will make an ICE version.

  • avatar

    These will be popular in Vancouver next time Canucks get their asses kicked.

    Seriously, though, i dont ever remember TTAC reporting on any other random vehicle fire, apart from when it has _anything_ to do with electric powertrains.

    • 0 avatar

      In 1985, my dad’s ’68 912 caught fire, on the way home from a soccer game. It was somewhat traumatic to my 13yo self. Gasoline is quite flammable!

    • 0 avatar

      I believe that we’ve covered burning Tata Nanos. Personally I’ve posted about a number of fire related recalls concerning, Fords, Mazdas, BMWs, MINIs and Rolls-Royces (BMW seems to have a corporate wide problem with fire issues on turbocharged cars).

      Like it or not the Volt and the Karma are high profile and any quality or safety issue with those cars is bound to attract attention. Is it fair? I don’t know but that’s how it is.

  • avatar

    Am I the only one who appreciates the irony that a car that goes by the name of “Karma” is bursting into flames? Maybe we should be looking into the backstories of these owners.

    • 0 avatar

      or the volatility of Lithium ion batteries.

      • 0 avatar

        Lithium ion batteries are prone to evaporate rapidly?

      • 0 avatar

        Prone to burst into flames!!!

        VOLATILITY- 3. Tending to violence; explosive: a volatile situation with troops and rioters eager for a confrontation.

      • 0 avatar

        If you’re such an expert of Lithium Ion batteries why do bring up their capacity to explode and burn again.

        You don’t use water on a ruptured lithium ion battery fire when the battery is of the size and scale of an electric car. Lithium burns/explodes because if the seal encasing it fails, and it comes in contact with air or water, it burns all by itself. This is why you have to go through tons and tons of ore to get to tiny amounts of lithium contained in. It isn’t a noble element.

        Watch the video, like the rest of us. They use water on the fire. The fire is in the Fisker engine bay. This is a non-battery engine bay fire. Pouring water on a battery fire would have made it worse.

      • 0 avatar

        “or the volatility of Lithium ion batteries.”

        Put down your laptop, and back away slowly. Unless you want to be wearing truck nuts in place of your real ones. LOL. :-)

        Seriously, while there was that run of Dell (and Apple) laptops that spontaneously combusted, there are millions of lithium-ion batteries out there in the world that not catching on fire. Engineering these batteries is important, but it can be done well — just like the engineering that goes with engines powered by flammable/explosive liquids. You should know that as well as anyone, as you claim to be in the IT industry and are clearly a vehicle enthusiast.

        I don’t see a lot to defend about the Karma, though. They’re positioned as a toy for the super-rich and their big coup was selling one to that Beiber kid — so I’m not even a bystander in their business. But EVs in general are worth defending. Tesla’s long term strategy is to move downmarket, and the Model S appears to be significant step in that direction — so maybe there’s a Tesla Model T or Model U in my future. Then there’s the Leaf and the Volt are aimed squarely at my demographic (geeks with a little extra green) and are available locally out here in flyover country. I’ve driven both and like them a lot — the only thing holding up the purchase at this point is the fact that I haven’t driven the C-Max yet, and the fact that my paid-off Prius and my beater-Escape are both running well.

      • 0 avatar

        VOLATILITY- 3. Tending to violence; explosive: a volatile situation with troops and rioters eager for a confrontation.

        Excuse me, but just because the dictionary gives that definition doesn’t mean that you’ve used it correctly. Your citation from the dictionary is not the primary definition, not even the secondary definition, but rather a tertiary definition, one that is used metaphorically to describe human behavior not physical science. To use another metaphor, you’re grasping at straws here. I’d be willing to bet $100 that if you said that to 100 engineers, at least 99 of them would have the same response as Steve65.

        The purpose of language is to communicate. As a writer I’ve found that if people don’t understand me, I’ve failed to communicate. Idiosyncratic usage might fit some definition somewhere but if you’re going to use words in a non standard manner, don’t complain when people take issue.

      • 0 avatar

        Ronnie, you’d lose that bet.

        You miss two fundamental facts:
        1. engineers have to work with non-technical folk, so they deal with non-technical language frequently, and
        2. people who choose technical careers like engineering often do so because interpersonal skills, like communication, are not their forte.

        As (generally) educated people, engineers are up-to-date on current events, which means they hear “volatility” used to describe the stock market as well as certain countries that may go to war overnight. (It sometimes is used interchangeably with “powder keg.”) Thus, it is more likely that 99%+ of engineers (as well as non-engineers) would understand what was meant, regardless of the technical precision in the language–I certainly did. Your accusation of “idiosyncratic usage” is flat-out wrong because 1) since the definition *is* in the dictionary (and used regularly on the evening news), it cannot be unique to one individual (which is the definition of “idiosyncrasy”), and 2) the evidence of how it’s used in the news indicates that that is the more common definition for colloquial communication, not “some definition somewhere.”

        However, given the second fact of engineers, I would not be surprised if up to 25% of engineers (depending on discipline) don’t even notice due to their familiarity with the colloquial usage.

        Also, your rebuttal regarding definitions is frankly pathetic. Words have multiple meanings; thus, we have to identify and differentiate those meanings. We assign them numbers, but those numbers are often arbitrary. Dictionaries do not always agree on definitions much less their order. For example, I use Onelook ( because it links several dictionary entries so I can quickly & easily compare. Funny thing–it has the scientific definition (substance becoming a gas) as the FOURTH while the definition of a condition/state that could suddenly change or become more dangerous as FIRST. So what are we to make of that? Absolutely nothing (!) because order doesn’t matter.

        The ordinal terms primary, secondary, & tertiary imply hierarchy (as you stated how something that is primary takes preference over something secondary, which takes preference over something tertiary, etc.), but a numbered list (while having a first, second, third, etc.) does not necessarily imply hierarchy. I listed two facts about engineers. I numbered them, but #1 isn’t primary and #2 isn’t secondary because their order can be changed without any affect.

        In fact, if we want to talk about a primary definition for “volatile,” it should be the concept on which all the various definitions are based, which is the concept of “to fly away quickly.” (“Volatile” comes through middle French from Latin “volatilis,” which means “fleeting, transitory, flying.”) A volatile situation can get out of hand (i.e., run away) quickly. A volatile liquid flies away (through evaporation) quickly. A volatile temperament easily changes. Thus, we can see that a dangerous condition where things may rapidly change is “volatile” because it matches the primary concept, not because it is a metaphorical application of the concept of evaporation.

        And therein might lie the real flaw in calling Li batteries “volatile.” If they take a long time to catch fire (weeks after damage for the Volt), then they lack rapidness or flightiness (unless the car blows up, then they would exhibit some characteristics of “flightiness”).

  • avatar

    What if we put a diesel engine into the Fisker, the lower operating temperatures and higher torque would better serve to charge the batteries.

    Then make it into a wagon/shooting brake and maybe give it some form of pseudo-manual transmission.

    …also the idea was already successfully tested on Top Gear with their Eagle Thrust, since the Fisker is as much of an effing joke as Top Gear’s homemade car was (albeit I’m sure they engineered it more than Fisker did).

    • 0 avatar

      I think it was the battery or the battery air conditioner that started this fire. We’ll know after the investigation.

      • 0 avatar

        APaGttH’s argument against it being a battery fire make a lot of sense. We can write off the battery, at least within the context of the armchair-engineering post mortem that we’re doing here.

        I’m interested in why you think the A/C would be an issue. High voltage automotive heat pumps have been used successfully in cars like the Prius for nearly a decade, with great success. The one in the 2004 Prius out in my driveway has given us 8 years and 145k miles of service without a peep and AFAIK, very few people in the Prius tinkerer’s community has had major issues with it. So, there’s nothing wrong with the concept of a high-voltage automotive heat pump, and it’s been proven for nearly a decade in a mass-market vehicle. So, is there something specific about the Fiskar’s HVAC system that you’d care to mention?

      • 0 avatar

        Luke, what he’s calling the “battery air conditioner” is apparently the battery pack’s cooling system. I’ve seen the term “battery conditioner” used for the system on the Volt that makes sure that the battery pack never gets too hot or too cold.

    • 0 avatar

      Diesel doesn’t handle stop/start as well, and the added complexity and cost of a diesel engine doesn’t make sense for hybrids: they’re already torquey enough at low RPM.

      You could pair a naturally-aspirated diesel, but those are so gutless (and so rare) it’s not worth the cost.

      A rotary might be a reasonable pairing.

  • avatar

    Big fat stupid luxury car’s big huge compensatory gas engine to blame for HYBRID FAIL

  • avatar

    Glycol is flammable? Not that flammable. You kinda have to work at it and you kind of have to be lucky (or stupid) at the same time. I have seen it with my own eyes, otherwise I would have never believed it, but it’s still pretty far down the list of flammable stuff+engine bay as far as my worries go. Flammable-ish? Mmm yeah.

    I would be more worried about some of the winter (and other specialty) washer fluids.

    The blue stuff is a fair concern, but when the parts man points to the bottles and says: “them there bottles are for serious Canadians only, cleans moose guts and thaws ice up to 3 inches thick” Well, think twice about putting that in your heated fluid tank. Have the parts man read you the bottle so you can get your “alckee-hawl” suspicions confirmed. Don’t let him drink any when his eyes light up, it’s poisoned. Moving on…

    Then you have hydraulic fluid, transmission fluid, PS fluid, brake fluid, freon/oil vapor clouds,and actual fuel. All kinds of stuff.

    In an electric car my first suspicion would be electrical arcing, high current, somewhere over the normal 12V.

    Say you shut the thing off and a switch opens under load- and you get an arc going, you go in the store, grab a bunch of Banannas, a newspaper, and a silly hat, and when you go back out it’s all over but the crying.

    Even a standard car battery can do a thousand amps or so instantaneous in a dead short, for a few seconds, then it starts falling off (I have read the whitepapers). Imagine what a high voltage traction battery with low internal resistance can do over an arc. Arc’s grow, and what we are talking about is only limited by the internal resistance and capacity of the battery. This battery being what it is, the situation is ripe.

    Fisker says 20 Klillowatt hours at 336 volt. Lithium ion. (DC obviously)

    You can get a nice arc going above 15 volts dc or so with enough current. Normal cars rarely ever get to that unless it’s really cold and they have temperature compensated charging or there is a failure.

    336Vdc and I am going to climb on top of it and ride to the store without a care in the world? Someone braver than me, maybe.

    • 0 avatar

      But have you seen what HV vehicle wiring looks like? It’s solid stuff. Well, maybe not in the Karma — but it certainly is in the Prius, and the other electric-ish vehicles I’ve gotten a good look at. I’ve worked in megawatt+ datacenters, and I know what unsafe wiring looks like — and the Prius and the Leaf are wired well. I don’t know about the Karma (I’ve never gotten to see one up close), but this *IS* one of the first things that any competent electrical engineer thinks of when they start designing a high-power system, and it shows in both the Prius and the Leaf.

      “336Vdc and I am going to climb on top of it and ride to the store without a care in the world? Someone braver than me, maybe.”

      The same argument applies to explosion-engine cars. Do you realize that most vehicles carry around 20 gallons of highly flammable volatile liquid, with explosive vapors. And the plumbing is on the bottom of the car, and there’s even sparks to light that $#!t on fire. What gives? I ain’t brave enough to ride in that contraption!

      Seriously, any time you store massive amounts of energy, the risk of letting it go all at once is there — regardless of whether it happens to be stored in gasoline, batteries, CNG, hydrogen, or even a flywheel. If you look closely at a modern gasoline car (particularly at the grounding of the fuel system and the grounding at gas pumps), you’ll see a lot of excellent engineering that greatly reduces the risk of fuel fires, and also a great deal of excellent engineering (such as impact-sensitive fuel cutoff switches and fire-resistant blankets) to control fuel fires when they do happen. But you can still let that energy go all at once, and it’s a big deal — regardless of the technology.

      Also, the 220VDC system in the Prius has been rock solid over the 8 years that my wife has been driving it — and far more reliable than the series of conventional beater cars I’ve owned during that time.

      • 0 avatar

        Luke 42, No Lucas jokes today then, I guess- only the meat and potatoes. Just about every wire in an automobile is undersized for what it has to endure. SAE# sized wires are also not AWG# sizes, but smaller. There is also quite a bit asked of the insulation, which is usually pretty skimpy and uninspiring, too. I haven’t ever seen good automotive wiring modern or old. They just dont do it that way. Stupid-high fuses with stupid-small wires are the norm. It’s a wonder we don’t have more car fi…

        My favorite demonstration of this is CHMSL assemblies at the far end of a vehicle. Jeep liberties are great for this, but other vehicles sometimes show it too. Pop one out someday, as if you were to change it. It has only a watt or two on it, but the connector will be warped/crackled/charred and the insulation will be ready to let go. It’s just not even close to being anything I would have, say – in my house, not that the code or inspector would ever let it come to be in the first place.

        I can do even better and this applies to nearly any car – Look at the wire hooking up to the glass on your rear defroster, which is a big load. Now look at the fuse size, now look at the wire again. It looks like about #16SAE wire, huh? (if you are lucky and it’s not #18) Is that a 30 amp fuse that factory installed, maybe 25 or 20? How long is that wire again? Will it really last for about the 10 years it was designed for? What if you switch it on during the hottest summer day? Will the insulation really withstand that? Even if it were #16AWG it’s only good for a few amps on those pesky electrical charts, not 30.

        So if modern cars don’t have what it takes to light a 1 or 2 watt light bulb without charring connectors and melting wires, and get basic 12V wiring sizes so wrong, what happens when you add in the really arc-y high voltage DC and try to figure that out? It’s something of a different animal on top of all the existing problems.

        Even 18V on a cordless drill will show plenty of arcing if you look by the vent holes on the brushes on the motor.

        This arc-iness is exactly why we HVDC it- in those spark plugs, and we got rid of those wires in modern cars because they were such a problem -and have coil packs now.

        The 12V system is 12V for a reason, and one of the primary ones is that we rarely see anything above 14ish. The insulation is less tricky, the connectors are easier to design, and you can do cool stuff like open a simple switch under load without much worry of an arc breaking out and ruining your day.

        The engineering for HVDC is a totally different ballgame, and you have to get every wire, connector and switch right the first time, and even then, there are many gotcha’s. I wouldn’t trust any automaker with it. This is (only one of the reasons) why I don’t go for the electric car stuff. I have already learned more than I cared to today. It’s spooky – more so than normal automotive electrical systems.

      • 0 avatar

        Folks, there are not that many high voltage cables in an electric car.. the few ones are thick, heavily insulated/armored and orange.

        There are 3 heavy cables from the inverter to each motor, 2 heavy cables from the battery to the inverter and smaller cables used in the charger to handle the lower currents. Eventually the inverter will be built on the motor thus reducing cabling even more, copper is expensive.

  • avatar

    Judging by the cosmetics of the car you could just shove a V8 in the huge nose up front and call it a day, yea rich hippies won’t like it but they’ll last longer.

    Between this and the poorly programmed touch screens I really do wonder how well Fisker tested this car before release.

    • 0 avatar

      Considering that the thing only gets 15MPG after the battery runs out, the V8 would probably save fuel too. The F-150 that I co-own gets highway 18MPG in a 5000lb vehicle with a 4.5L V8, and the Karma appears to have much better aerodynamics.

      I’m an EV fan, an EV advocate, and a likely EV owner, but the Karma sure wasn’t built for guys like me.

    • 0 avatar
      el scotto

      More like rich techies, not hippies.

  • avatar
    Mike Kelley

    I couldn’t care less why this thing burned up. What I want to know is why did our government loan them $529 million to make this rich-man’s toy in Finland? We are borrowing 40 cents for every buck we spend, and we can afford this? Give me a break.

  • avatar
    el scotto FWIW you can see the fire (water) hose charge at about the 37 second mark.

  • avatar

    It’s obvious what started the burn here.

    VoltsOnFire has succumbed to madness and is even now stalking about looking for hybrids in need of a good toasting.

    • 0 avatar
      el scotto


    • 0 avatar
      Volts On Fire

      From the looks of it, EVs like the Karma and Volt — which share a near-identical powertrain configuration — hardly need any help from li’l ole’ me.

      That said, I am contemplating offering a sizable bounty for photos of an in-service Volt on fire.

      • 0 avatar
        sunridge place

        My favorite Volt Fire Story:

        Dumbass in a Toyota wrecks his car into a Volt. Camry catches on fire.

        Strange thing is that this story didn’t get much coverage. Wonder why?

        Neither did this one:

        Weird huh?

  • avatar
    Carlson Fan

    All I got from a Volt that passed me the other night was a wave from the owner. No flames or smoldering. He was probably surpirsed that a guy in a gas guzzling 2500HD crew cab 4X4 PU had his arm out the window giving him a BIG thumbs up as he went by!….LOL Man that thing was stealth as it went by.

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