Five years after curtailing production, the most expensive plug-in hybrid electric vehicle on the market is making its way back to showrooms across the country. Karma Automotive shipped the first 10 units of its first and only model, the $130,000 Karma Revero luxury super car, last Friday.
If the nameplate sounds familiar, that’s because its predecessor, the Fisker Karma, enjoyed a brief production run as a 2012 model – selling more than 2,300 units priced from $103,000 to $115,000 – before Fisker Automotive, beleaguered by manufacturing problems as it rushed to appease investors, filed for bankruptcy and halted the company’s plans to dominate the luxury hybrid market.
But the dream of a six-figure hybrid would survive. Chinese investor Wanxiang Group purchased Fisker’s assets in 2014, re-launching the company as Karma Automotive. Karma began production last year on its first and only model, the Revero, which can travel 50 miles on a battery charge, 17 miles farther than its predecessor.
Costa Mesa, California-based Karma says it has sold 50 Reveros so far and opened space in eight luxury car dealerships in the U.S., including in Los Angeles, Philadelphia, and Palm Beach, Fla., as well as in Toronto and Montreal. Karma, with more than 850 employees spread among Southern California (including its Moreno Valley factory), Detroit, Germany, and China, has a better chance of succeeding than Fisker, which was unable to meet its lofty goals in the short time allotted, Karma executives said. The deep-pocketed, Hangzhou, China-based Wanxiang Group, which has an office in Chicago, has allowed Karma significant leeway in spending time and money.
“We’re allowed to spend what it takes to do it right,” Joost de Vries, vice president of sales and service, told reporters at the vehicle’s test drive in Laguna Beach, Calif. on Tuesday. Karma’s leaders agreed. “Western private equity demands as fast returns as possible,” said Jim Taylor, the company’s chief revenue officer. “We hit the lottery with our owner. He’s very hands-off, which is pretty rare with ownership in private equity.” Bob Kruse, senior vice president of engineering, said, “Eastern culture is much more long-term focused.”
Karma has no plans to evolve beyond a low-volume niche luxury brand. The Revero, a low-slung, four-door sedan that felt fast and clung to curves reasonably well on the test drive, is intended for car enthusiasts who already have a stable full of Maseratis and Aston Martins and want to drive something that no one else has. The $130,000 price point is a “nice little white space” because it is more expensive than high-volume luxury vehicles like the Mercedes S-Class but cheaper than performance-oriented supercars, Taylor said.
Though Fisker challenged Tesla for dominance of the fledgling electric vehicle market nearly 10 years ago, Karma wants now to distinguish itself from Elon Musk’s line of all-electric vehicles. In September, at the launch of the Revero’s prototype in Southern California, Karma executives said that Revero buyers “aren’t interested in an iPad on wheels.” The Model S, they said, is a daily driver, whereas the Revero is a “date-night car.” Still, the Revero includes many modern conveniences, such as Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, 4G connectivity, over-the-air software updates, and a faster, more responsive touch screen.
The Karma Automotive team said it improved upon the original Karma – namely, streamlining the infotainment system, developing new software for the battery, and including fast-charging capabilities and a solar roof – but that it will not rush production. “We’re starting super slow – one a day – and making sure we get everything right,” Taylor said. Karma is applying the same philosophy to its dealer network. Whereas Fisker quickly opened several standalone showrooms that could not sustain themselves, Karma is taking space inside pre-existing dealership groups selling Rolls-Royce, Lamborghini, and other ultra-luxury imports.