Sixteen Fisker Karmas, hybrid autos, caught fire as an aftermath of the storm Sandy. Fisker’s press release concerning the fires follows:
“It was reported today that several Fisker Karmas were damaged by fire at the Port of Newark after being submerged in sea water during Superstorm Sandy. We can report that there were no injuries and none of the cars were being charged at the time.
“We have confidence in the Fisker Karma and safety is our primary concern. While we intend to find the cause as quickly as possible, storm damage has restricted access to the port.”
As you can see from the picture the damage was total:
Photo courtesy of Jalopnik.com
The cause is still under study but my guess is that the salt water caused the batteries to short-out. Lithium batteries have thermal overload protection to prevent runaway reactions. But it is doubtfull that protection systems are designed to protect if submerged in salt water. The lithium ion cells can breakdown to lithium in an uncontrolled reaction. When lithium is exposed to water, fire and explosion can occur.
While submerging in salt water is a rather rare occurrence for any auto, the possibility that these hybrid lithium ion batteries might encounter water under extreme conditions must be considered by the manufacturer. A safe system must be provided to prevent these fires and explosions.
Update per Autoblogreen! Fisker lost 16 Karmas due to fire and another 284 also due to the flooding at the Port of Newark. The latter group did not catch fire. Fiskers says that all were covered by insurance. Fisker has added an explanation for the fires as follows: ”…. it was a problem with a low‑voltage Vehicle Control Unit, “a standard component found in many types of vehicles and is powered by a typical 12V car battery,” in a Karma. Because the cars were “submerged under five to eight feet of seawater for several hours,” salt in the water corroded the VCU, Fisker said. The Karma’s advanced lithium-ion batteries did not play a role in causing the fire.“
The lithium battery were not envolved?