Grab any electrical engineer off the street and they'll tell you salt water conducts electricity. So when super storm Sandy pushed seawater into parking lots at New Jersey's Port of Newark, significant damage to recently imported vehicles was inevitable.
Fisker and Toyota learned this first-hand.
Fisker fell victim to the most dramatic damage. Sixteen of its Karma vehicles caught fire and burned shortly after this week's storm. These luxury plug-in hybrid vehicles cost at least $95,000 each and count Justin Bieber and Leonardo DiCaprio among its celebrity owners.
No one was hurt in the fire and Fisker spokesman Russell Datz said none of the vehicles was plugged in at the time and the company was working to determine the cause of the fire.
This incident is the latest round of bad news for the company. In September, Consumer Reports panned the Karma after spending months testing one the media outlet bought. In August, Fisker hired its third chief executive in a year, the same month the company was forced to issue a recall after a small cooling fan caused a Karma to catch fire in Woodside, Calif. No one was hurt in the incident.
The damage from super storm Sandy wasn't limited to Fisker. Toyota says some 4,000 vehicles the company had on lots at the Port of Newark were damaged by the storm. 2,128 of these were hybrids.
Cindy Knight, a spokeswoman for Toyota, said some of the vehicles damaged by the seawater did start smoldering, and three hybrids, two plug-in Prius models and one conventional Prius did catch on fire. No one was injured in these incidents.
Knight said this was the first time in recent memory that Toyota had suffered a loss like this because of a natural disaster in the U.S. The company did experience widespread product shortages in 2011 as a result of the earthquake and tsunami in Japan. The company has rebounded strongly since last year, with sales up 16% last month. This was despite a massive recall of 2.5 million vehicles in the U.S. to fix a faulty power switch that had injured at least nine people and caused several hundred reports of smoke and fire.
Despite the setback in Newark, Fisker was looking to put a positive spin on the recent storm. The company announced Thursday that it had opened the parking lot at its expansive plant in Wilmington, Del., for utility and repair crews working to restore power and open roads in the area.
Other automakers around the country also decided to help those affected by the storm. General Motors said it will offer $500 toward a purchase or a lease to people living in federally designated disaster zones. Nissan and its luxury arm Infiniti said they would extend employee deals to disaster victims.