Fisker's pricey Karma car "plagued with flaws"-Consumer Reports

DETROIT, Sept 25 Tue Sep 25, 2012 6:37pm IST

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DETROIT, Sept 25 (Reuters) - An influential consumer magazine said Fisker Automotive's Karma plug-in hybrid has a variety of flaws, from limited visibility to a poorly designed touch-screen system that amounts to an "ergonomic disaster."

The less-than-glowing report from Consumer Reports magazine is the latest blow for Fisker, which is looking to raise funds after being denied access to more than half of a $529 million government loan that was the cornerstone of its business plan.

Consumer Reports tested a $107,850 Karma - the most expensive vehicle the magazine has tested - and said it does not fare well against most other luxury vehicles, due partly to its cramped interior and overly complex controls system.

"Although we found its ride, handling and braking performance sound and it has first-class interior materials, the Karma's problems outweighed the good," said Jake Fisher, director of Consumer Reports' auto test center.

"When it's running, the gasoline engine has an unrefined roar. And the Karma's heavy weight affects agility and performance, as the Karma lacks the oomph you expect," he added.

In a statement, Fisker noted that the magazine appreciated the Karma's ride, handling and braking and said it plans to improve the Karma's sound quality and touch-screen system.

"As the Karma is a concept car come to life, packaging and visibility will of course not be that of a minivan," Fisker said.

The Karma plug-in hybrid is an extended-range electric vehicle similar to General Motors' Chevrolet Volt. Once the battery is used fully, a "raspy" turbocharged GM-supplied engine kicks in, Consumer Reports said.

The Karma gets the equivalent of 66 miles per gallon on a full charge, but once running on the gas engine, the Karma gets an "unimpressive" 22 mpg, the magazine found.

"The 66 MPGe (miles per gallon equivalent) recorded during testing - the highest of nearly any production car -- is a great endorsement for Fisker as pioneers of this new luxury segment," Fisker said.

Fisker has benefited from its styling and high-profile clientele, including actor Leonardo DiCaprio and pop singer Justin Bieber. In its statement, Fisker said it brought the Karma, "a pioneering vehicle," to market in record time.

But the vehicle has also faced a series of setbacks. Earlier this year, a Karma tested by Consumer Reports failed due to a problem with the battery made by A123 Systems, which prompted A123 to recall all the Fisker battery packs.

After the battery problem was fixed, Consumer Reports' engineers still experienced "disconcerting intermittent glitches related to the gauges, warning lights, power windows and radio," the magazine said.

In August, Fisker also recalled 2,400 Karma plug-in hybrids to repair a faulty cooling fan unit that was the cause of a vehicle fire in Woodside, California.

Earlier this year, the U.S. Department of Energy denied Fisker access to more than half of a $529 million government loan awarded in 2009 due to delays in the Karma launch.

The company has been looking to raise $150 million in additional funds to tide it over until production of the Atlantic, Fisker's second hybrid model, Ray Lane, a Fisker director and a managing partner at venture firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, said in an interview in mid-August.

The company has already raised more than $1 billion in private financing from venture backers and others since its founding in 2007.

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