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Can Fisker Stay Afloat? Multiple Probes and Buyer Backlash Threaten EV Startup

Fisker Inc.'s bid to establish itself as a premium electric vehicle brand hits a roadblock as safety concerns escalate over its Ocean SUV, with regulators probing into reports of unexpected rollaways and braking failures


Fisker Inc., the California-based electric vehicle startup, is facing growing scrutiny over safety issues with its new Ocean SUV. The company aimed to establish itself as a premium EV brand. But persistent mechanical problems and frightening malfunctions have buyers losing faith and regulators taking action.

The latest trouble surfaced this month, as the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) opened an investigation into reports of Ocean vehicles rolling away unexpectedly. This follows complaints about sudden loss of braking performance that triggered an earlier probe in December 2022.

According to NHTSA filings, there have been at least four cases of Fisker Oceans shifting into neutral and rolling backwards when owners believed they were safely in park. In one alarming incident in Pennsylvania, the owner claims they exited the stationary SUV only to have it begin drifting driverless. As they tried to jump back in and stop it, the open door knocked them to the ground.

Fortunately, no major injuries have been reported. But these rollaway incidents point to potentially dangerous flaws in the transmission system. It builds on a troubling pattern of issues dogging the highly anticipated vehicle since customer deliveries began last November.

Fisker’s early marketing hyped the Ocean as an affordable, high-tech electric SUV that would challenge Tesla’s dominance. And initially, reviews praised the vehicle’s stylish design and user-friendly features. But the shine has worn off as owners grapple with an array of mechanical gremlins and glitches.

Besides the transmission and braking problems, social media is flooded with complaints about loss of power during driving, trouble getting in and out of the vehicle, hoods flying open unexpectedly, and difficulty shifting gears. Software updates have aimed to address some problems but new issues continue plaguing early adopters.

Fisker says it is fully cooperating with NHTSA’s investigations and stresses these are small numbers of vehicles affected. But when customers pay premium prices, even minor defects can damage a brand’s reputation. This is especially true for startups like Fisker trying to compete with established giants like Tesla that have engineered reliability into their products.

The Ocean’s ongoing technical troubles provide a cautionary tale of the pitfalls in scaling up new EV models quickly. In the race to electrify, quality control cannot be an afterthought. Until Fisker can deliver satisfaction by ironing out the kinks, it risks losing the customer and regulator trust needed for long-term success. But if the company takes the lessons to heart, it could still smooth out the rough start and cruise in the fast lane.

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