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Fisker recalls Karmas over A123 Systems battery defect

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Fisker Automotive's first car - the plug-in hybrid Karma sedan - was crowned last month as luxury car of the year. Now the company is recalling the cars because of a faulty electric battery component.

Just last month, Fisker Automotive's first car -- the plug-in hybrid Karma sedan -- was crowned luxury car of the year by BBC Top Gear magazine. Now the company is recalling 239 Karmas because of a faulty electric battery component that could cause a fire.

The Transportation Department's National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) said in a notice Thursday that Fisker would recall Karma vehicles made between July 1 and Nov. 3 of this year due to incorrectly positioned hose clamps on the lithium-ion batteries.

Concerns about the product became public last week, when manufacturer A123 Systems posted a memo that it had found potential safety issue in the batteries it supplies to Fisker, reported Bloomberg News. According to A123, certain hose clamps that are part of the battery pack's internal cooling system were misaligned and positioned in such a way that could potentially cause a coolant leak. The coolant leak could lead to an electrical shortage. At the time, A123 said fewer than 50 customer cars were involved in the "corrective action." The official recall will affect 239 vehicles.

There have been no reported incidents and Fisker has contacted buyers of all the cars purchased so far, a company spokesman told Bloomberg News.

Even though it appears the safety issue has been addressed early, the recall doesn't bode well for Fisker or A123 Systems. Production for the $102,000 car was originally scheduled for 2009, but has been delayed several times, which in turn has pushed back the company's timeline to reach profitability. This latest problem could derail that timeline altogether.

Then there's the additional attention -- and criticism -- that will likely fall on Fisker and A123 because both companies have received substantial support from the federal government. Fisker received a $529 million loan guarantee back in 2009 from the U.S. Energy Department. A123 received a $249.1 million DOE grant to develop its electric battery.

Photo: Fisker Automotive

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Kirsten Korosec

Contributing Editor

Kirsten Korosec has written for Technology Review, Marketing News, The Hill, BNET and Bloomberg News. She holds a degree from Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism. She is based in Tucson, Arizona. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure