Fisker Karma Fire Report

I’ve heard some pretty interesting eyewitness stuff about the Fisker cars that “caught fire and exploded” after being flooded by hurricane Sandy (as originally reported by Jalopnik), backed up by some reputable published sources.

The battery modules were relatively undamaged, leading to the conclusion that the batterry chemistry did not directly lead to the fire and explosion.  The fires seemed centered around the front of the cars, originating from the gasoline engine area.  This, I believe, is also where the gasoline fuel tank is located.  It’s confirming what’s pretty obvious from the photos Jalopnick released, even the one you see above.

The fires apparently occurred well after the cars were flooded.  The flood waters had cleared the cars when the fires started, though, even still, there is a considerable amount of water in the various compartments of the cars, like the trunks and such, of all the cars in that lot (of which there are thousands).

They may be well more than just 16 Fiskers in that lot, but I’m not sure about this one.  Rather than concluding that all of the cars that were flooded burst into flames, it seems more accurate that a small percentage – maybe 16 out of 100 – in a very small area, caught fire, leading one to guess that one fire may have ignited nearby cars.  Again, I don’t have a confirmed number…  just an impression, and for that area of the lot only.

In any case, the obvious conclusion that most people seem to be jumping to, that the lithium batteries got wet and exploded, appears to be wrong.  No doubt we’ll be reading more in the weeks to come…

In an interesting story in the New York Times, and a bit more detailed that the Jalopnik story and associated re-posts of it, they report that one Prius caught fire as well as several other cars that “smoldered”.

“One Prius out and out burned, the others just kind of smoldered and got really hot,” Cindy Knight, a Toyota spokeswoman, said in a telephone interview on Thursday. The smoldering cars included a plug-in hybrid Prius and a conventional hybrid Prius. The car that burned was a plug-in. That’s three cars out of the 4,000 Toyotas that were at Port Newark during the storm, including more than 2,128 plug-in or hybrid models. According to Ms. Knight, the fire “likely started because saltwater got into the electrical system.”  

It’s hard to know if there were any all-electric cars in the lot, at all, but so far the reports for just problems with hybrids.

Another comment from that story supports the theory that the lithium batteries did not, by themselves, create the fire:

Although lithium catches fire in water, this volatile reaction would almost certainly not be the culprit here because the lithium is sealed inside the Karma’s battery cells, a transportation research engineer who tests plug-in vehicles said in an interview Thursday. “The fact that these cars have big batteries in them may or may not have contributed to the issue. Any electrical system can short and cause a fire – it doesn’t need a high-voltage battery pack for that to happen.”

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