Consumer Reports: Fisker Karma the Worst Luxury Sedan

Fisker logoIt’s been six months since the taxpayer-subsidized ($193 million) Fisker Karma broke down at the test facilities of Consumer Reports before the publication could even take it for a review spin, but now the researchers have finally been able to put the luxury electric car through its paces and their assessment is complete.

Verdict: fail.

Why did it take so long for the car loved by Leonardo DiCaprio, Justin Bieber and Al Gore to get the full evaluation? Consumer Reports explains:

“With the Karma, much attention has been paid to our unfortunately routine problems, including an early failure on our track that left the car immobile and led to the battery being replaced, frequent instrument, window and radio glitches, and recurring warning lights. So far our Karma has made multiple trips back to the dealer (who, by the way, has provided excellent service, flat-bedding the car to and from our facility).”

Well, at least taxpayers’ money didn’t completely go to waste – we now know where in Connecticut to find an auto dealer who delivers at-your-doorstep electric car towing services with a smile. As for the $107,000 Karma, Consumer Reports found only a few other flaws that led it to rank it as the worst luxury sedan – and fourth-worst sedan overall – of those it has rated. And the magazine rates lots of cars.

Other flaws in the Karma that CR cited were insufficient seating space, poor visibility, complicated dash controls (including a “slow-reacting” grey touch-screen interface in which glare is a problem and selections are hard to distinguish), lack of accessibility, noisiness, minimal storage, and long recharging times (but you already knew that!). CR’s video narrator also noted how poorly the car was assembled (in Finland, despite U.S. taxpayer support) with big gaps between indoor components and exterior panels.

Other than those feature flaws, CR says the car looks great! Company founder and auto designer Henrik Fisker found consolation in the few features the magazine found worthwhile, like ride, handling and braking.

“As the Karma is a concept car come to life,” he said in a statement, “packaging and visibility will of course not be that of a minivan.” Thanks for clearing that up for us, Henrik.

So chalk it up to another in a series of publicity blunders for Fisker, which also includes: two recalls; a SEC investigation of its primary venture capital raisers; an investor lawsuit; layoffs; two vehicle fires; a false promise to manufacture cars at a former General Motors plant in Delaware; state taxpayers paying the utility bills for that empty plant; and a cutoff of its loan by the Department of Energy.

Then there was the cronyism behind that loan in the first place, which was originally supposed to be $529 million, that was to create 2,000 permanent jobs, take 30,000 cars off the road annually, and lead to the diminishment of 154,000 tons of carbon dioxide per year. The Silicon Valley venture capital firm behind Fisker is Kleiner, Perkins, Caufield and Byers, whose employees (plus Al Gore as a senior partner) donated $2.6 million to mostly Democrat candidates and political action committees. KPCB also spent $50,000 per quarter throughout 2009 and 2010 lobbying Congress, in addition to Fisker’s expenditure of $480,000 for lobbying of Congress, the White House and the Departments of Energy and Defense to seek funds through DOE’s loan program.

Just think – taxpayers could have had the privilege of supporting Fisker to the tune of over a half billion dollars, until DOE loan overseers changed their minds in midstream. At $193 million, we can at least boast that we played a small part in the creation of this stellar car, and helped work toward President Obama’s vision of 1 million electric cars on the road by 2015.

“Most Karmas are going to be bought by the rich and famous,” said the Consumer Reports reviewer. “That’s good, because they can afford another car to drive if their Fisker’s in the shop.”

Paul Chesser is an associate fellow for the National Legal and Policy Center and publishes, an aggregator of North Carolina news.