The Fisker Karma is a car with a fairly short but quite strange life. Originally released in 2012 as a strikingly designed hybrid gasoline-electric sedan most notable for its dramatic proportions and alarmingly cramped interior, the car has since had a change of ownership and is now known as the Karma Revero. Karma has recently been announcing new models and showing prototypes of new technology. However, I’ve spoken to a source in the company who tells me that the new models have specs that are made up, that there are prototypes that are “movie props,” and that the company itself will soon undergo massive layoffs.
The picture painted by our confirmed source, who has a position in the company where they would be exposed to information provided, is one of a company that is knowingly showing vaporware in an effort to put on a “magic show” for its Chinese investors in a last-bid attempt to secure funding even as plans to lay off workers in early May are in place.
Karma’s Chinese investors, the Wanxiang Group, reportedly cut their investment from $400 million to $100 million late last year, and our source reports to us that Wanxiang wants out entirely from the company.
We should be clear that these statements reported here are from one primary source, confirmed to have a position within the company that could reasonably provide them with access to this information, and have been corroborated by another source inside the company.
Our source tells us that they have information to suggest that at least 100 employees will be laid off between May 1 and May 15, and the endgame is to reduce staff to 27 employees, consisting of exclusively employees at the VP level and two directors.
Recently, Karma has been touting its E-Flex platform, a flexible platform derived from its Revero GT architecture and able to support full battery electric vehicles, extended-range electric vehicles (EREV), and can even support autonomous vehicles.
Karma has announced plans to develop new models for this universal platform, and even sell the platform itself to other manufacturers. Conceptually, it’s a solid idea, not unlike Volkswagen’s MEB or similar flexible electric car platforms.
The problem is that, according to our source, the E-Flex platforms shown are “movie props,” with only one actually capable of being driven. Our source says they themselves “helped build half of it,” and that the chassis being shown is simply a production Revero GT chassis that has been modified, and not a new, unique—albeit Revero GT-derived—platform as suggested.
Our source states that the E-Flex platforms being shown, as in this picture from Karma here, are simply production Revero unibodies taken from the production line and cut down. Our source claims that “nothing has been proven to function whatsoever.”
Our source has also provided us with some pictures of the construction of Karma’s battery-electric version of the Revero, the GTE, which is allegedly built on their new E-Flex platform. The source provided us with this picture of one of the welds:
Yikes. This is on Karma’s battery-electric version of the Revero, the Revero GTE, which the company has announced will come out next year.
While a working prototype of the all-electric Revero GTE does exist, our source maintains that the specs currently being distributed to the media are entirely fabricated and not based on testing of any kind.
This goes for the crucial specs of range, which is listed as 200 miles from a 75 kWh battery pack and 300 miles from a pack with just 25 kWh more, along with the performance specs of 0-60 in under 3.9 seconds. Our source says these numbers come from “no tests, all made up numbers.”
The reason our source cites for the lack of testing is limited resources and, as our source puts it, “anyone who was worth a shit to handle testing has been laid off, furloughed, or quit.”
Now, you could certainly argue that fudging specs is hardly uncommon in the auto industry, and we don’t know for certain how many other high-profile cars arrived at their reported specification numbers. Tesla’s Cybertruck comes to mind.
But if an employee feels strongly enough about the lack of evidence of specs being reported to the media, specifications that our source and other employees will be pressured to actually hit in reality for the car, it’s worth mentioning.
Karma’s press release gives a date of Spring 2021 for the release of the Revero GTE, a date that, if we are to believe the information from our contact, would be one where Karma as a company would not likely be in a position to actually make this happen.
Another example of Karma promoting prototypes and technology beyond the level of what actually exists in reality is the “Level 4 Autonomous All-Electric (E-Flex) Van” that was unveiled last month, and pictured above. Our source tells us that this van is actually a Revero “cut down the long axis kinda like a bagel” and fused with a Dodge Promaster van body, sliced in a similar manner.
The two parts were joined together and while technically the Revero platform’s drive-by-wire steering and other controls could allow for autonomous systems to be added, the vehicle shown has only external sensors installed and none of the actual hardware or software needed for anything approaching autonomous driving.
Our source calls the van “a spoof” and states that Karma’s autonomy team “had no clue” what to actually do to make anything that actually worked. We have acquired some pictures of the inside of the van that show the hacked-together nature of the project:
It would be one thing if Karma was presenting the van as a “concept” vehicle, like manufacturers often do, as a way to showcase future technology and design concepts, without necessarily claiming that these features were actually ready—concept cars are more conceptual ambitions made into real, if not functional, vehicles.
But that isn’t how Karma is presenting this van to the media; it’s being talked about as though it’s a working demonstrator of technologies that Karma has developed, and our source claims this is not accurate.
Karma’s own press release about the van states:
“Karma’s new L4 E-Flex Van is powered by the NVIDIA DRIVE AGX Pegasus™ autonomous vehicle computing platform, which achieves an unprecedented 320 trillion operations per second of deep learning. It’s built on a scalable architecture, with two NVIDIA Xavier™ processors and two Tensor Core GPUs. This energy-efficient, high-performance AI computer runs an array of deep neural networks simultaneously for safe, highly automated and fully autonomous driving. The L4 van’s software platform and sensors suite are supported by WeRide, which covers full 360-degree FoV (Field of View) and provides precise, real-time localizations powered by multiple sensors including LiDar, radar, camera, GNSS and INS.”
...while our source maintains that “NVidia didn’t give Karma one piece of hardware.” We have reached out to NVidia for comment and will update if we hear back.
With our source’s words in mind, Karma’s tweets about the van might perhaps be best viewed as theater.
For what it’s worth, when fellow writer David Tracy and I were at the Los Angeles Auto Show last year, we saw the Karma E-Flex platform and had many questions about it ourselves, but were assured it was real by the Karma employees at the booth.
Our source cites their motives for coming forward as a desire to give their coworkers some sort of warning, so they can begin looking for other work. They note that many Karma workers are here on H1 visas, and they don’t want them to be blindsided by the layoffs our source believes will be coming in May.
We have reached out to Karma for comment, and they provided the following statement to address our source’s claims:
“Our Karma E-Flex Platform project demonstrates Karma’s highly versatile chassis system and offers partners new electric vehicle solutions. For example, our Karma EREV chassis system, the first of these demonstration platforms, can be seen on our current Revero GT product. Additionally, further demonstration platforms represent various battery and motor configurations based on currently available Karma technology; the I-shaped and flat battery packs, dual and quad motor powertrains, and SiC and IGBT inverters demonstrated in Karma’s E-Flex platform project are tested technologies. We are communicating these technologies with various companies who we cannot disclose due to confidentiality; however, they do include various Fortune 500 companies.
Similarly, our continuing development of the Karma L4 E-Flex Van prototype includes continued collaboration with industry leaders, NVIDIA and WeRide, using NVIDIA DRIVE AGX Pegasus autonomous vehicle computing platform and WeRide’s sensor suite and software platform.
Moreover, we have recently shared the projected specifications of our Revero GTE; while we cannot yet reveal the details surrounding the technology in the car, we remain confident the GTE will achieve these specifications. We will be releasing further information validating these specifications in coming months.
Karma remains confident in our business strategy and path forward; at this current time we are not planning layoffs.”
It’s perhaps worth noting that Karma’s wording in places does not necessarily contradict what our source reported. For example, “Our Karma E-Flex Platform project demonstrates Karma’s highly versatile chassis system,” does not necessarily imply that a working E-Flex platform exists, and the use of words like “demonstration platforms” that “represent” technologies have similar fuzzy meanings.
The Karma L4 E-Flex Van prototype is just described in terms of “continuing development,” and the statement does not refute the claim that the shown prototype is non-functional.
Similarly, saying “projected specifications of our Revero GTE” makes no mention of what processes were used to arrive at those specifications.
These are difficult times for all automakers, especially smaller ones like Karma, and it’s certainly not the first time an automaker has fudged the numbers on upcoming models or shown prototypes that were clearly not what they appeared to be. That doesn’t make it any better, though, and it’s hard to imagine a situation where being deceptive is going to work out well for anyone involved, employees, investors, or executives alike.