Karma Automotive
Industryweek 11680 Karma Auto 1
Industryweek 11680 Karma Auto 1
Industryweek 11680 Karma Auto 1
Industryweek 11680 Karma Auto 1
Industryweek 11680 Karma Auto 1

Karma Aims to Challenge Tesla with $115,000 Solar-Boosted Hybrid

Aug. 11, 2016
The new Revero can drive about 50 miles in pure electric drive before a gasoline engine kicks in. It also has a solar panel on the roof that can charge the battery.

Karma Automotive LLC, the Chinese-owned carmaker once known as Fisker Automotive, has taken another step in its resurrection with the online reveal of its plug-in hybrid sedan that seeks to compete with Tesla’s Model S electric car.

The rebooted automaker has revealed the all-new Revero, which will cost more than the $115,000 sticker price on the original Fisker Karma when deliveries begin no later than next year’s first quarter. The car will be able to go about 50 miles in pure electric drive before a gasoline engine kicks in, said Chief Revenue Officer Jim Taylor. It also has a solar panel on the roof that can charge the battery, he said.

Karma’s plan is to sell an exclusive sports sedan to people who currently buy the Tesla Model S and other expensive sporty cars.

Under Wanxiang Group Corp. and its chairman Lu Guanqiu, Karma is one of several Chinese-backed plug-in car companies that are targeting the U.S. market with electric cars that will take on Tesla Motors Inc.

“We think we’re in Tesla’s court,” Taylor said in a telephone interview. “If it was just about style, we would only go head to head with Aston Martin and Maserati. But these buyers are also interested in the technology.”

Solar Role

Karma is among the first to use solar panels to charge a production car’s high-voltage battery that powers the motor. The predecessor company’s original car, called the Fisker Karma, used a solar panel to charge the 12-volt battery that powers lights and other accessories and Toyota Motor Corp. has used solar power in the Prius to run the ventilation system. Toyota’s new Prius Prime plug-in, going on sale this year, will have an optional solar panel to charge the battery for buyers in Europe.

Solar power is a big part of Tesla CEO Elon Musk’s vision. He has proposed merging Tesla with SolarCity Corp., in which he holds a 22 percent stake. Musk wants his buyers to be able to buy his cars and then charge them with solar power at home. Several of Tesla’s fast-charging stations are also solar-powered.

Karma has been working to get back to car production since its predecessor company, Fisker, defaulted on a U.S. government loan and went bankrupt in 2013. Wanxiang, an auto parts maker, bought its assets out of bankruptcy the following year. The company has filed documents seeking to open a $375 million factory in Hangzhou, China.

As Karma rolls out its electric-drive technology, it wants to add smaller plug-in hybrids and fully electric cars to its lineup, Taylor said.

Similar to Tesla’s strategy with low-volume sellers like the early Roadster and Model S, Karma wants to use the Revero to start building its capabilities and intellectual property so the company can eventually build cars in higher volume, Taylor said.

The predecessor company sold 2,000 cars, Taylor said. Those owners will get the first chance to reserve and buy the new model this week, he said. Costa Mesa, California-based Karma will make about 900 Reveros in the first year and boost production later, Taylor said.

“Those owners are so passionate, borderline fanatical,” he said. “We want to give them first crack at it.”

By David Welch

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