Southern California’s nascent electric carmaker Karma Automotive hits a big milestone this year, and it’s one many people probably didn’t see coming.
The Irvine-based luxury automaker is turning 10. Inside those years are some bumpy beginnings.
From a startup to bust and then reborn again (twice), the company is eking out a name in the luxury car world with three new models hitting the roadways this year and into 2026.
After two rocky years before the pandemic struck in 2020, the automaker is ready to start adding jobs again at its headquarters in Orange County and manufacturing plant in Moreno Valley.
The company today counts about 300 workers, but President Marques McCammon said Karma will eventually need to hire another 300 to 500 employees to meet production demands. To make that happen, the automaker is looking to create workforce development and training initiatives with local universities to prod students into the green transportation economy.
“We will be designing prototypes for all of our vehicles, and as that portfolio grows we’ll add more engineers and technicians, and there will also be more area suppliers,” McCammon said.
Karma’s path has not been without challenges. Its origins in 2007 as Fisker Automotive met an early demise after its battery supplier A123 Systems went bankrupt. Wanxiang, a Chinese automotive conglomerate, bought the assets of both businesses in 2014 for $400 million and renamed the company Karma.
The company’s first EV was the Karma Revero. But on April 11, 2019, Karma issued a recall and stop-sale order on all Reveros, due to a flaw in the rollover sensors that could disable the car’s side-curtain airbags.
The resulting financial difficulties prompted the layoff of 200 employees at its Irvine headquarters in November 2019 and 60 more the following year.
To put the company back on track, several executives were let go last year. McCammon, formerly with Chrysler Corp. and then Daimler-Chrysler, was brought on board to lead the company’s operations.
Karma engineers, designs and manufactures its electric and range-extended EVs in Southern California. The company maintains a 500,000-square-foot production facility in Moreno Valley and the vehicles are sold throughout North America, Europe, South America and the Middle East.
“North America is our biggest market by far,” McCammon said. “We have 32 dealerships and 22 of them are in North America.”
That includes dealerships in Murrieta, Las Vegas and Scottsdale, among other locations.
The company has sold about 1,000 of its luxury vehicles to date. That equates to an average of 100 cars a year.
“We’ve always existed as a niche vehicle maker, and we’re comfortable with that,” McCammon said. “In terms of luxury vehicles, we’re probably the closest to Ferrari. They do 15,000 units a year, but I don’t see us reaching that scale in the near future.”
Joseph Yoon, a consumer insights analyst with Edmunds, said Karma caters to a niche market of buyers with deep pockets.
“It’s hard to gauge what they consider a success,” he said. “It’s not like they’re building compact SUVs for young families. They’re serving a very small slice of the market.”
In November, Karma announced its three new models:
Revero: A return of Karma’s signature range-extended hybrid electric touring sedan, this updated version has an 80-mile electric range and a combined gas/electric range of 360 miles. It will be available in the third quarter of 2024 for around $145,000.
Gyesera: Karma’s first full all-electric sports touring sedan features rear-wheel drive, a 250-mile range and a 11.6-inch infotainment screen. It will be available in the fourth quarter of 2024, priced at $190,000.
Kaveya: The full-battery electric super coupe will be available in two versions. One, with a top speed of 180 mph, a 250-plus mile range and butterfly doors, will be available in the fourth quarter of 2026. The other, with rear-wheel drive and 536 horsepower, will be released in the fourth quarter of 2025. The estimated sticker price for the cars will be “north of $300,000,” McCammon said.
Karma’s buyers include Jay Leno, who owns a custom Karma Revero GS6 that was recently highlighted on his TV show, “Jay Leno’s Garage.”
“I drove it for about a month and put about 700 miles on it,” Leno said as he showcased the car. “I didn’t use any gas because I got about 80 miles free every day. And by free, I mean electric. I have to admit, the more I drove it the more I liked it.”
A growing market
A new report from Kelley Blue Book found a record 1.2 million U.S. vehicle buyers chose to go electric last year. In 2023, EVs accounted for 7.6% of total US vehicle sales, the company said, up from 5.9% in 2022.
EV sales in the fourth quarter of 2023 set a record for both volume and share — 317,168 and 8.1%, respectively. But demand has slowed.
KBB said EV growth will continue to slow, possibly displaying the first quarter-over-quarter sales decline in more than three years.
Yoon explained the slowdown this way:
“EV makers have run out of early adopters,” he said. “They’re trying to get people who weren’t really into EVs to buy them, and it’s a bit difficult.”
He said buyers have strong reservations about the charging infrastructure for electric vehicles.
“I live across from a big mall that has all sorts of EV chargers, but they’re always occupied,” he said. “And if you get outside of big urban areas, people will worry. ‘Oh, maybe I can’t go see my family because there are no chargers there.’ “
Several governments are providing tax subsidies on the purchase of luxury and economy electric vehicles, but California has taken the EV push a step further.
In August 2022, the California Air Resources Board approved an advanced clean-cars rule that will require all new cars sold in 2035 and beyond to be zero-emission vehicles, including EVs and plug-in hybrid electrics.
Karma has also developed its own EV battery production facility at its Moreno Valley facility, and the company plans to create a clean energy corridor between Irvine and Moreno Valley, a project aimed at improving air quality in the region.
“We’ll have charging infrastructure on both sides and energy storage available to customers for their homes,” McCammon said. “We’re also partnering with another company to provide charging for commercial vehicles.”
The market for commercial EVs is also ramping up.
Riverside officials recently cleared the way for Ohmio, a New Zealand maker of autonomous electric shuttles, to move its international headquarters to the city.
Costa Mesa-based Rove has also broken ground on a mega-center in Santa Ana that will boast 40 fast-charging stations, a grab-and-go market, car wash, 24-hour lounge, free WiFi and restrooms.
And Brea-based EV automaker Mullen Automotive recently launched production of its Mullen Three Class 3 truck at the company’s assembly plant in Tunica, Miss. With a range of 120 miles and a hauling capacity of 5,800 pounds, the vehicle was created for businesses that make short-haul deliveries, a Mullen representative said.