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Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Karma Auto Gets New President, EV Plans

Marques McCammon was about ready to call it quits on his dream of leading an auto startup. Then Karma Automotive came calling.

The Irvine-based luxury EV maker in April ­tapped McCammon as president, marking the latest executive change at Karma, which had been Orange County’s largest EV maker prior to the emergence of Irvine’s Rivian Automotive Inc. (Nasdaq: RIVN).

McCammon, who previously led a team of about 1,000 at clean energy consulting company Ricardo, counts 30 years of experience in the transportation industry.

He joins Karma’s revamped exec team alongside Jeff Wawrzyniak, who was acting CEO following Lance Zhou’s resignation from the post at the end of 2021. Wawrzyniak now reports to McCammon.

McCammon’s hiring precedes the company’s multiyear plan to debut at least one luxury EV per year over the next two to three years, he said.

“There is a space” which Karma hopes to fill, and that “most of the EV companies are not playing in now,” McCammon told the Business Journal during an interview at Karma’s headquarters last week.

When asked if Karma is trying to be the EV equivalent of luxe carmakers such as Ferrari and Bugatti, he said “I’ll give you a wink and look away, because I don’t want to give too much away too soon.”

Karma’s current EV portfolio consists of one vehicle, the GS-6 sedan. Its range tops 350 miles and has a charge time of 34 minutes, according to the company’s website.

The company is Orange County’s fifth-largest automaker, with around 300 workers.

It has counted a modest amount of success on the sales front over its history, with about 400 U.S. vehicle sales in the year ending June 2022, according to the Business Journal’s latest ranking.

Fisker Coincidence

McCammon’s first brush with Karma came about 17 years ago, when he developed a plan for an auto startup in an urban area that could provide jobs to people that lacked the opportunity to pursue an education.

McCammon pitched his idea to Silicon Valley investors and VC firms, including venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins. To his chagrin, a managing director at the time told McCammon that his pitch was too late. The firm had just invested in another auto company called Fisker Automotive, which would go on to set up operations in OC.

Karma was formed out of Fisker’s assets, which included a luxury hybrid vehicle known as the Fisker Karma. The company went bankrupt in 2013 after it was unable to pay back a large government loan; its assets were sold to Chinese parent company Wanxiang Group, which renamed the company Karma Automotive.

Fisker was led by Henrik Fisker, who founded his next EV venture, Fisker Inc., (NYSE: FSR) in 2016.

Fisker Inc. is based in Manhattan Beach, but has been expanding its R&D operations in OC of late, with new spots in La Habra and Huntington Beach.

Upcoming EVs

The most affordable vehicle Karma has offered to date costs about $90,000, according to McCammon.

“That is about as low as we would ever want to go,” he said. “Once we start going below that, we’re competing with the likes of Tesla and everything that’s going to come from Cadillac, Ford or GM. That’s not where we want to live.”

The company’s highest price point to date falls around $150,000, officials said.

While Karma only offers one EV model, the GS-6 is highly customizable. Buyers can select any color of their choosing at the company’s innovation and customization center in Moreno Valley, a 556,000-square-foot facility that also houses its production operations.

Karma remains tight-lipped about its upcoming models, though officials mentioned that an announcement regarding its retail portfolio is to come this fall.

Apart from the GS-6, Karma also features two different scissor door sedan concepts on its site. It’s unclear if or when these designs will come to fruition as a purchasable EV.

“Our goal is to truly be aspirational,” McCammon said. Karma’s vision is to develop cars that not only the “younger versions of ourselves” aspire to have, but also ones that are “more efficient and more practical for the environment.”


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