For Karma, same car, different circumstances

by admin September 10, 2016 at 8:34 am

The Karma Revero is tentatively scheduled to go on sale by year-end, but that could change if the car isn’t up to Karma’s standards.

LOS ANGELES — The “new” Revero sedan Karma Automotive launched last week isn’t very new.

Aside from the shiny new paint schemes, the reprogrammed infotainment system and a faster charger, it’s largely the same vehicle as the Fisker Karma from 2012 with the same plug-in hybrid drivetrain and eye-catching exterior design.

What is new is everything but the car: its mission, the company behind it and the automotive landscape at large — all of which have only emboldened Karma as it seeks to re-establish itself as a brand.

Purchased out of bankruptcy by Chinese auto parts maker Wanxiang Group in 2014, Karma — nee Fisker Automotive — is now a privately held company based in Costa Mesa, Calif. This means no potential initial public offering looming, no government loans weighing on its balance sheet and therefore no immediate pressure to sell a certain number of cars and chase a certain amount of profit.

“We’ve got a private owner with patient capital, very different investment circumstances than before,” James Taylor, Karma’s chief marketing officer, said in an interview ahead of the Revero’s debut Thursday night. “So we literally have the luxury of not being pressured for volume.”

The new Revero is tentatively scheduled to go on sale by year-end, though in another nod to its patient owner, that date could change if the car isn’t up to Karma’s standards. Once it is on sale, Karma is hoping for annual volumes in the “low thousands,” Taylor said.

Karma puts the Revero’s starting price at about $130,000.

When it is available, the Revero will be greeted by an industry that has evolved considerably since 2012. Plug-in hybrids are no longer a science experiment. Automakers — particularly luxury brands — now see them as a critical bridge from traditional gasoline-powered vehicles to the pure EVs and hydrogen fuel cell vehicles expected to dominate the future. And Tesla Motors, whose Model S debuted around the same time as the first Fisker Karma, has demonstrated that there’s a market for plug-in luxury vehicles at $100,000-plus.

“Think of what stage of maturity electric vehicles were in back then and the amount of risk you were taking to jump in and drop six figures on a brand you’d never heard of and an electrical technology that, even for the [Chevy] Volt, was just launching,” Taylor said.

Taylor: Not “pressured for volume”

The guts of the Revero will look familiar to anyone who knew the Fisker Karma. It’s powered by a pair of electric motors that drive the rear wheels with juice from a lithium ion battery. 

Under the curved hood sits the same turbocharged 2.0-liter Ecotec four-cylinder sourced from General Motors. 

The automaker is still waiting on EPA validation but expects the car to get close to the Fisker model’s 54 mpg-e rating. The addition of direct-current charging means an 80 percent charge happens in 24 minutes. 

A larger on-board charger cuts charge times with a 240-volt outlet to three hours, down from six. 

Rather than spend a considerable amount of time and money changing or updating the Fisker’s powertrain — especially one that it says was warmly received by owners — Karma chose to iron out other wrinkles in the car. 

Most crucial was a redesign of the much-maligned infotainment system. The new simpler setup was programmed in house this time and uses a TomTom map database. Over-the-air updates, brought into the mainstream by Tesla, will now be possible. 

As with the powertrain, the styling largely carries over from the Fisker era. While some well-heeled buyers looking for the latest toy may snub the Revero as a has-been, Karma is betting the Fisker model was too short-lived for most people to remember it. The look was penned by Fisker’s namesake and founder, Henrik Fisker, a former BMW and Aston Martin designer, and largely holds up despite its age. 

While the Revero is Karma’s short-term play to regain its sea legs, the automaker is already working on the next step: a platform and powertrain architecture that will underpin a family of Karma vehicles. 

Though there’s no timetable for their launch, when they arrive, those vehicles will have the distinction of truly being new.

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