Bad news travels fast and for electric vehicle (EV) manufacturers a battery problem — any battery problem — is a speed-of-light nightmare. As soon as word is released that an electric car has a battery problem it will be splashed on the front pages of web sites across the internet. On some sites (we’re looking at you, Drudge Report) an EV battery problem — no matter how minor — becomes yet another “I told you so” justifying an editorial policy seeking to not only denigrate the nascent alternative fuel vehicle industry, but in many ways to dismiss the entire notion of a viable green technology economy.
So when the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration opens a formal safety defect investigation to assess the risk of fire in Chevy Volts after three cars caught fire days after being involved in side-impact crash tests you can bet it’s front-page news. Readers are then confronted by striking headlines that GM has decided to ask Volt owners to bring their cars into dealers to strengthen the structure around the batteries, yet when the safety agency announces that Volt owners whose vehicles have not been in a serious crash have no reason for concern and that the vehicle received a five-star crash rating, that news is usually missing from front pages.
Recently, Fisker Automotive and its battery supplier A123 announced that it found a “potential safety issue” in batteries it has sent to the electric automaker. That issue involved hose clamps that are part of the battery’s internal cooling system that were found to be “misaligned, positioned in such a way that could potentially cause a coolant leak. Over time, it is possible that in certain rare circumstances, this coolant leak could potentially lead to an electrical short circuit.”
A123 and Fisker reacted quickly. The battery manufacturer released a statement saying that also “the root cause was quickly identified, a fix has been developed and corrective action is well underway.” Meanwhile, Fisker posted an open letter to its customers, informing them of the steps the company was taking to solved the problem. “As a precaution,” the letter read, “we are replacing battery packs in the 50 cars already in customer hands with brand new ones, and are making modifications to address the issue in the more than 1,200 Karmas already produced and in production. At Fisker Automotive we see this quick and thorough response as an investment in our long-term reputation as we build a solid company that understands the importance of doing what is right for our customers.”
So how does a bad news story like this end for a burgeoning EV manufacturer? Quietly. Very Quietly. To virtually no fanfare, Fisker announced on January 2 that, “A majority of all customer cars and dealer-held vehicles affected by the recall involving A123-supplied battery packs have already had brand new battery packs fitted or the confirmed repair to the hose clamp assembly undertaken and are back in service – just two weeks after Fisker was first made aware of the issue. The remaining customers have been contacted and appointments are being made for their replacement battery installation.”
While certainly not good news for Fisker, as the story wrapped itself up in the silence of a corporate press release, CEO Henry Fisker took some comfort in his company’s response to the crisis, saying, “We identified the appropriate fix, made our retailers aware of the situation and began contacting all our customers within 48 hours and were well advanced with the recall ourselves before the official posting on the NHSTA website.”