A Fisker Karma plug-in hybrid made headlines last week when it was linked to a garage fire in suburban Houston. However, the company was quick to deny that the battery was the cause since it had stayed intact and was unplugged. It’s likely that the culprit is the excess heat as a result of poor packaging in the engine compartment and exhaust routing.
Jon Bereisa, CEO of consultancy Auto Lectrification, said that a fire can be created when these conditions occur with a fluid leak. Bereisa served as the chief engineer of General Motors' EV1 and also functioned as the systems architect for the Chevrolet Volt.
This makes him very qualified to deal with these complicated problems. Bereisa has driven the Karma and has examined how its elements worked. He said that he became instantly alarmed when he saw the cramped engine compartment of his test car.
When interviewed, Bereisa said that this engine is “shoehorned into that bay” since they had to utilize a bigger engine and it was too heavy a car. He said that there’s no space for exhaust routing and heat shielding to direct the heat away.
He also said that the Karma is “using the hell out of that motor-generator." A "thermal condition" would then take place under the hood or along the closely packed exhaust routing path.
With this heat level, leaking oil, fuel or coolant could raise the risk of fire. Glycol, which is a major ingredient in the coolant, is flammable by itself. Jeremy Gutierrez, who owned the Fisker Karma, said that when the fire began, he smelled rubber, according to a report by Autoweek, an affiliate of Automotive News.