By the time Cory’s Fisker Ocean One arrived in October, he already had a bad feeling about the SUV. Problems with early owners’ cars and delays in receiving his own vehicle gave him pause, but he decided to take delivery anyway rather than lose his $5,000 deposit, he told InsideEVs. 

“It just didn’t sound like the company was ready to go live with this car yet,” Cory, who preferred we only use his first name, said. “In retrospect, they weren’t, and I should have just canceled my order and lost my $5,000.”

After enduring three months of inexplicable warning lights, a key fob that struggled to unlock the car, unsettling braking incidents and unhelpful customer service from Fisker, an EV startup in the early stages of delivering its first model, Cory decided to walk away from the car he’d just paid more than $70,000 for. In January, he sold his Ocean for a roughly $15,000 loss.

Fisker Ocean

Cory isn’t alone. Nine early Fisker customers told InsideEVs they’re feeling frustrated with the company or their cars due to issues with their vehicles, what they say is Fisker’s lackluster customer service, or a combination of the two. Some said they were prepared to sell their Oceans or force Fisker to take them back if things don’t improve. (Most preferred to remain anonymous, including out of fear of online harassment. Fisker critics are regularly accused of shorting its stock on online forums.)

The California-based EV startup is already facing an uphill battle as a newcomer to the cutthroat auto industry. Burning cash fast and struggling to scale up vehicle sales, the firm has seen its share price plummet some 89% in the last six months. Unhappy customers and flaws in its early products could make Fisker’s journey forward even more challenging than it already was. 

Fisker has already received over 100 complaints from customers about “power loss” alone, TechCrunch reported this month, citing internal company documents. The company told TechCrunch that loss-of-power problems are rare and that it has resolved “almost all the issues” with software updates. 

2023 Fisker Ocean

Regarding the customer complaints in this story, a Fisker spokesperson told InsideEVs that “almost all the issues that have been identified were confined to early-build vehicles, and we are working with early adopters to address issues they might have had.”

They added, “As adoption grows and the number of drivers and miles driven increases, our innovations are tested under a wider range of conditions that reveal ways we can improve.”

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Loss Of Power 

By and large, the owners InsideEVs spoke with had no illusions that their electric SUVs would be perfect from the jump. Even though the car is built by veteran Austrian contract manufacturer Magna Steyr, Fisker is still a startup, after all. And the Ocean is its debut model.

There were bound to be some quirks, just as there are with any vehicle in its inaugural model year. Many purchased the Ocean One, a limited-run version with all the bells and whistles that was the first variant Fisker produced. The cars began shipping to U.S. customers last summer.

Upstarts and legacy automakers alike have struggled with quality issues in their new electric vehicles. Tesla long grappled with inconsistent build quality in its cars. General Motors, which has been in the car business for a century, had to halt sales of the Chevrolet Blazer EV after reports of serious software glitches, including from InsideEVs. Vehicles are complex machines and mass-producing them well can be fraught, especially for a company just starting out. 

2023 Fisker Ocean interior

Alex, an Ocean Ultra owner in Nashville, Tennessee, said his accelerator pedal “stopped working” twice last month, forcing him to roll to a stop on the side of the road. The root cause is still a mystery to him. 

Both times, the car didn’t display any warning lights and appeared to still be in drive, he said. And both times, shifting the car into park and then back into drive did the trick. But he still has the nagging worry that it could happen again and hasn’t received word of a definitive fix from Fisker. 

“It’s disconcerting because you don’t know when this is going to happen,” he said. “It’s just not something that I would have expected from a new car, new company or not.”

Two other owners described losing most or all power while driving as well. Owners have flagged power loss issues to the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) too, with one reported incident happening as recently as February 12.

Will, an Ocean One owner in the U.K., said he was a few miles into a 300-mile trip in December when his SUV’s battery level plummeted from 91% to zero, forcing him to coast into someone’s driveway. Locking and unlocking the car revived it, but the experience was enough for him to return the Ocean to Fisker shortly thereafter under U.K. consumer protection law. 

2023 Fisker Ocean

Undeterred from the brand, Will said he liked his Ocean and may even end up buying another one down the line, once he’s more confident that these early issues have been ironed out. 

“I appreciate being a beta tester,” Will said. “But to be an alpha tester, while the car’s still got growing pains, I just felt like I shouldn’t have been sold that one.”

Other Problems

Cory’s Ocean arrived with broken air vents that wouldn’t change direction when prompted to by the touchscreen, he said. It frequently spat out errors informing him that the regenerative braking, collision warning, emergency braking and advanced driver-assistance systems weren’t working, a complaint other owners echoed in interviews and messages to NHTSA. (In electric cars, regenerative braking kicks in when you lift off the gas pedal, slowing the car down and feeding energy back to the battery pack to improve efficiency. Many EV owners rarely use their regular brakes.)

Some said those kinds of warnings would intensify due to rain or glare from the sun and result in persistent audible alerts while driving. Cory also said his Ocean would unexpectedly roll backward when he’d stop on slight hills. Other owners—and reviews from publications and channels like Edmunds and MKBHD—noted the same phenomenon. Fisker says improved hill-hold capability is coming to its cars in its 2.0 software update, which it started sending out to owners last week. 

Simply unlocking and starting the car with the key fob was hit or miss, owners said. “It’s a pain in the neck just to get in the car,” Cory said. 

Owners described clicking their key fobs repeatedly to lock or unlock their cars, sometimes in embarrassing situations. While practically any car from the last couple of decades can be reliably locked or unlocked from a distance, Oceans tend to respond intermittently and only from a few feet away, owners said. 

The fob’s near-field communication function (that’s what allows you to unlock a car and drive off without removing a fob from your pocket or handbag) was also spotty. Some drivers said they needed to tap the fob to a receiver below the dashboard to start their cars. 

Daniel Schlafman, head of analytics at an advertising firm in the San Diego area, said he was struggling to unlock his Ocean after a meeting with coworkers when a security guard approached him, accusing him of breaking into his own car. 

Fisker is well aware of the issue. Its 2.0 software update includes “key fob performance enhancements, to improve response.”

R.J., an I.T. consultant in New York City, said he never experienced key fob problems. But one day, when leaving a business meeting, his car wouldn’t unlock. The only way he could get in was by using the Fisker app on his phone to open the trunk and crawl in, he said. When he opened the driver’s door from inside, the Ocean’s alarm started blaring. It continued for 30 minutes, including while R.J. was driving, he said.  

2023 Fisker Ocean

He said the vehicle has improved somewhat over time with software updates, but using it is still far from seamless. The Ocean’s rotating screen—a standout feature of the car—presented issues, for example. R.J. said that rotating the display from landscape to portrait orientation sometimes causes the infotainment system to crash. 

“I can get used to anything very quickly,” R.J. said. “For the everyday person who is not well versed in technology, this is a nightmare.”

Braking was another source of concern, and it’s something NHTSA is already looking into. Some owners reported that their regenerative braking would cut out momentarily when going over bumps, sending them jerking forward unexpectedly. Fisker said it addressed that issue in a December software update

In addition, some have been frustrated to learn that regen was occasionally unavailable for an entire trip, altering how their car drives and stops. Yevgeny Bilozerov, whose parents bought an Ocean One and do not speak English, said his mother nearly got into accidents twice when regen was deactivated—because she’d grown accustomed to the feature slowing the car. 

On Friday, NHTSA announced another probe into Fisker's cars, this time regarding reports of "unintended vehicle movement" stemming from an "inability to shift into park and/or the vehicle not shifting into the intended gear." Fisker said it is "fully cooperating" with the agency. 

Customer Service Needs Work 

Customers told InsideEVs they needed to prod Fisker over and over again—sometimes publicly, on social media—to get their cars fixed or their basic questions addressed, as TechCrunch also noted. Much like Tesla, the firm launched with a direct-sales model instead of a traditional dealership network. That puts the onus on Fisker itself to provide customer service and repairs. (It also announced that Bridgestone locations would help maintain Oceans.) 

Evidently, it’s struggling to keep up with inquiries in these early days, leaving some buyers feeling left behind. 

Fisker Ocean Livestream Debut

A Fisker spokesperson added that the company’s pivot to a dealership model should help it serve customers better. The spokesperson also pointed to the Ocean’s ability to receive updates wirelessly. 

“We expect our new Dealer Partnership model will greatly improve service timetables for customers,” the spokesperson said. “Our pace of identifying, analyzing and correcting issues is accelerating because we have a fully connected vehicle and can rapidly respond to customer needs.”

Alex, whose vehicle suddenly lost power twice, said it took nearly a month and lots of follow-ups for a technician to come look at his car. 

“When it comes to the car not working and safety issues, I would have thought they’d be a little more responsive,” he said. 

Trudy loved her Ocean One for the first two months she owned it. She said she was happy to overlook many of the nagging issues she noticed, confident that Fisker was already working on them. But in mid-January, her vehicle completely died in her garage. 

A Fisker technician came the same day as part of a previously scheduled visit but couldn’t diagnose the problem. She said it took roughly four weeks of bugging Fisker by phone, via email and, finally, on social media to get her car checked out again and subsequently towed to a service center. Part of her wishes she had bought from an established brand with a large dealership footprint, she said.

Bilozerov said Fisker’s inattentiveness to his family’s issues with their Ocean One was frustrating enough that they’re looking to get a refund through California’s lemon law, which protects consumers against defective vehicles. In addition to the regenerative braking issue, he said his family’s Ocean arrived with broken air vents, a laggy interface and key fob issues.

“Once we got the car, they did not care about us,” Bilozerov told InsideEVs. “My parents are risking their money, and the company should stand behind their product. But they absolutely dropped the ball on that.”

Fisker Ocean One on the assembly line

To be sure, online forums and conversations with owners show that plenty of Ocean drivers are pleased with their cars and with the service they’ve received thus far. Even those who’ve dealt with buggy key fobs and other growing pains remain enthusiastic about the company and its ability to deliver fixes over time. 

But some owners are rethinking their purchases. Mike, a Chicago-based Ocean owner, said that in January his car twice lost most of its power while driving, forcing him to crawl to his destination at around 20 mph. He said he’s “trying to stay positive” but may go the lemon law route if his issues persist after Fisker fixes his Ocean.

Schlafman was dismayed at the sluggish customer service he received after a strut mount broke going over a dip. His Ocean has been at a shop awaiting parts from Fisker for weeks, he said, leaving him frustrated that the startup sold cars without being able to repair them. He said he’s prepared to sell his Ocean if he can do so without taking a total bath on it. 

“You shouldn’t sell cars if you can’t support them being on the road. Just invest in those resources,” he said.

R.J., who said his wife in particular “hates” their Ocean, said he tried to trade his car in at a Porsche dealership for the brand’s electric Taycan Cross Turismo. He was offered a paltry $30,000, he said, less than half of what he paid. He may look to sell it again once some of the Ocean’s issues are resolved through software updates, which he believes will make it worth more. 

“Porsche laughed at me,” he said. “They literally said, I kid you not, ‘What the fuck is this thing?’”

Still, Most Really Like Their Cars

Issues aside, Ocean customers told InsideEVs again and again that they loved their cars—how they drive, how they look, their build quality inside and out. Fisker has delivered some 5,000 cars to customers, and much of the activity from owners online is positive. Many say that ownership has been smooth sailing. But nagging issues dampen the experience for some. 

Fisker EVs

Fisker has grand plans for at least three more models. 

“When everything is working, I love the car,” said Joyce, an Atlanta-based Ocean One driver. “But it’s rare that everything is working.” She said her car frequently warns her that various systems aren’t available and that her car loses internet connection for a few days every couple of weeks. That means Spotify won’t work. Recently, she said, it wouldn’t let go of a charging plug. 

She said her experience thus far makes her worried about new things going wrong. She wishes she had postponed the purchase and let other people deal with all of the early issues. “I think in a year it’s going to be a great car,” she said. 

What this means for Fisker

Fisker is working on fixing bugs and adding features through remote software updates—something that wasn’t possible with the un-connected cars of yesteryear. And it’s intent on beefing up its capacity for customer service by signing up dealers to sell its cars. (So far, it has announced four locations.) It has ambitious plans to build an affordable compact SUV, a pickup truck and a supercar. But it still faces a monumental challenge ahead. 

Getting customers to spend their hard-earned money on an electric vehicle from an unfamiliar brand is no small feat. The startup delivered around 4,900 Oceans last year, but it produced well over 10,000 of them. Fisker also has a substantial inventory of Oceans across the U.S., including limited-edition Ocean Ones. Taken together, those facts indicate that not enough buyers are lining up.

“Inventory piling up is the biggest indicator of a demand issue,” said Ivan Drury, Director of Insights at Edmunds. 

Fisker Ocean One Inventory

Quality issues could make consumers even more hesitant. And there are indications that’s already happening. On Fisker’s Reddit forum, Ocean buyers on the fence have asked if the customer service and reliability issues are really as bad as they seem. 

Marc Daudon, a sustainability consultant based in Seattle, was in the market for a small electric SUV with a long range and all-wheel drive. He put down $5,000 for an Ocean One, expecting a great early-bird deal on a well-appointed EV. But he ultimately forfeited his deposit after learning about some of the SUV’s early issues. 

“It became clear that that version one edition had all these bugs in it, so all of a sudden that value proposition evaporated pretty quickly,” he said. He needed something reliable and electric, so he went with a Tesla Model Y

Earlier waves of EV buyers were eager to overlook Tesla’s quality issues and problematic customer service just to live on the bleeding edge of technology. But today’s EV shoppers tend to be mainstream buyers with mainstream expectations. Now practically every brand they know and trust offers a battery-powered option. 

Moreover, car buyers are more likely to forgive issues in truly extraordinary vehicles, Drury said. Think about a Ferrari or a Lucid Motors Air, an EV with supercar-like acceleration and market-leading range. The Ocean, meanwhile, is a premium SUV that will probably be a buyer’s primary way of getting from A to B, not a plaything. And unlike Tesla in 2012, Fisker has to compete with mainstream companies making often-stellar EVs, like Hyundai and Kia, with the repair networks to back it up. 

“There’s nothing there that screams ‘I’ve got a stand-out product, and you’re going to be willing to put up with whatever issues this vehicle has,’” he said. 

The person who bought Cory’s Ocean may be having the same sort of experience. 

“I think the guy immediately had buyer’s remorse,” he said.

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