Former Ford GT engineer defects to Karma to make electric cars – The Verge

Posted: Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Former Ford engineer Kip Ewing is among the latest auto industry veterans to join Karma Automotive, the upstart electric car company built on the ashes of Fisker. The company is opening a new Troy, Michigan engineering center, an outpost of the company’s California headquarters and manufacturing operation.

Karma has grown from 20 to 500 employees in two years. The company will ramp up its Michigan facility to 80 employees this year and plans to have a total of 150 people working out of Troy by next year. Ewing will serve as chief engineer and is among the most recent Karma hires that hail from the ranks of Aston Martin, Rolls-Royce, Tesla, Ford, FCA, and GM and will report to Darren Post, who is heading Karma’s engineering efforts. Ewing was on the Ford team that led the development of the 2017 Ford GT and its predecessor, and his May departure from Ford was a surprise.

I spoke to Ewing recently about his new appointment. “When I interviewed with Tom Corcoran, our CEO, he asked me the question of why I wanted to leave Ford. My response was, ‘I think the right question is why would come to Karma?’ The plant they have, the financial backing they have, the leadership they’ve assembled has made it a really attractive opportunity,” he says.

Karma Automotive
Karma Automotive’s new manufacturing facility in Moreno Valley, California.

Karma Automotive is the direct descendent of Fisker Automotive, an ill-fated company founded by prolific auto designer Henrik Fisker that stopped making its beautiful-but-flawed cars in 2012. Chinese parts manufacturer Wanxiang later acquired Fisker and its battery supplier A123, and has quietly begun staffing up its operations, after changing its brand name to Karma. (Fisker himself is no longer involved in the company.)

Karma Automotive is expected to introduce the Revero, a reengineered version of the original Fisker Karma, later this summer. “The product that will be revealed later this year will look very much like the original car,” Ewing says. “Most of the changes will be in the quality and function of the vehicle — much more refinement and reliability. I think that’s a really important part of this story that we’re making a modern electric luxury car designed in America and made in an American plant.”

I also spoke with James Taylor, Karma’s chief marketing officer, and a former president of Cadillac. He told me he has led much of the company’s recruiting efforts over the past two years. “We’ve gone from 20 to 600 people to ramp up the critical resources to make what we believe is a sustainable car business. At the back end of that is Kip and bringing on some experienced serious engineering people to build out our ranks,” he told me. Taylor says Karma has a new business structure and is not under pressure to bring a car to market at a rapid pace. “Sounds corny but true — only when it’s ready is it ready. And we have a lot of funding in the bank for our next generation of products that assures our future,” he adds. Karma is focused on beefing up its California plant and will source drivetrain components from BMW. Fisker’s original plant was in Finland, which apparently accounted for some its manufacturing woes. The additional office in Detroit helps broaden the talent pool.

2013 Geneva Auto Show
2013 Geneva Auto Show

Photo by Harold Cunningham/Getty Images
A Fisker Karma at the Geneva Motor Show in 2013. Karma Automotive’s Revero is expected to look similar.

In contrast to several of the California-based EV companies chasing Tesla — including Faraday Future, NextEV, and Atieva — Karma is not emphasizing self-driving or connectivity, instead focusing on electric power and driving experience. “I literally had one of the customers say ‘I don’t want to drive an iPad,’” Taylor says. “They treat it as a sense of relaxation and enjoyment, almost old-school driving. You have to have adequate connectivity in the car, what’s expected in the ultra luxury segment. It’s not going to be overemphasized or a technical contest over who has the most buttons and the most features to be able to control.”

The Revero, like the Fisker Karma before it, will be an extended-range electric car, not a fully electric vehicle like the Tesla Model S. The Revero will have new a wiring harness and electronic boxes. “A lot of unglamorous things that are under the skin that don’t make for big sexy car reveals, but are very important,” Taylor says. Members of the original design team have stayed on the company, offering insight into its future design palette.

Karma envisions itself as a driver’s electric car, which is appealing to engineers. “It’s a drop-dead gorgeous, beautiful vehicle that has proportions like no other and its still very much about engaging the driver in the experience, dynamically and visually,” Ewing says. “We just want to build that up with a very unique perspective an opportunity space that no one else plays in.”


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