China’s Karma Automotive Plans to Enter Electric Truck, SUV Fray

Karma Automotive
(Karma Automotive)

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The pickup truck market that has gone years without an electric entrant may have another competitor join the fray: Karma Automotive, the Chinese-owned carmaker once known as Fisker.

Karma plans to show an electric pickup concept toward the end of this year, signaling plans to take on models teased by Tesla Inc., buzzy upstart Rivian Automotive Inc. and gas-guzzling truck giants Ford Motor Co. and General Motors Co.

Karma plans to base the pickup off a new all-wheel-drive platform that will go into production at its factory in southern California, according to Kevin Pavlov, who became chief operations officer this month. It will be priced below its gasoline-electric luxury sedan, the Revero, which starts at $135,000. The architecture also will be used for a high-end sport utility vehicle.

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With taxpayer-funded and then failed Fisker as part of its lineage, Karma will face credibility issues until it starts producing and selling vehicles in serious numbers. But Pavlov, who used to lead the e-car unit at auto supplier Magna International Inc., believes the company will be able to stand out in what could soon be a more crowded field of electric models built with the body styles Americans are actually buying, instead of sedans.

“We can bring a utility vehicle into the market and be differentiated,” he said.

The coming months will be busy both for the electric SUV and pickup segments. Tesla’s Model Y and Ford’s Mustang Mach-E will pile in behind the likes of the Model X, Audi’s e-tron and Jaguar’s I-Pace. Inc.-backed Rivian intends to start selling its R1S SUV and R1T pickup late this year, with the latter model facing competition on somewhat uncertain time frames from Tesla’s Cybertruck and electric models from Ford and GM.

Pavlov, who led development of Ford’s battery-powered Focus compact car before working at Magna, is only the latest executive tasked with trying to revive the reincarnation of Fisker. Chinese auto-parts maker Wanxiang Group bought the company out of bankruptcy in 2014 and provided the financial backing to restart the business as Karma, the name of its plug-in sports sedan that was bought by the likes of Justin Bieber and Leonardo DiCaprio.

Karma sold about 1,000 units of the Revero last year and launched a higher-performance GT version in November. Pavlov, who oversees product and business strategy, said the company also plans to try licensing its electric and self-driving technology to other carmakers, which may boost stability through the ups and downs of selling luxury vehicles.

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