A California car that takes solar power seriously

In Karma Automotive's paint shop area. (Photo courtesy of Karma Automotive)


We’re entering an era of increasing high-tech automotive offerings from major manufacturers. Tesla, the all-electric car company, demonstrated the wide appeal for a car that’s more like a spaceship than what we’ve become accustomed to driving over the last 90 years, when the gasoline powered internal combustion engine secured its dominance.

Consumers are going to start having more choices when it comes to plug-ins and hybrids thanks to governmental required emissions and MPG targets, enacted not just here in the United States but in Europe and Asia as well, according to Stephanie Brinley, a Principal Analyst at IHS Markit. Current sales of hybrids – both plug-in and regular, and all electric vehicles – make up a small percent of cars sold in the United States.

However, with more choices, come more sales. This year hybrids are selling about the same as last year – 297,000 vehicles from January to August, about 2.5 percent of all vehicles sold. And all electric cars are up a small percentage – from .5 percent or 60,000 vehicles to .8 percent to about 100,000 vehicles.

One of the newer hybrids, from a factory in Moreno Valley, is the Karma Revero. It’s a PHEV, a plug-in hybrid electric vehicle, powered by a large lithium-ion battery that with a full charge gives the driver 50 miles of all-electric mode. The gasoline engine charges the battery if necessary. On your regular 110 volt household current, the Revero reaches nearly full charge in eight hours. In other words, you can plug it in overnight and get a full charge. Starting price is $130,000.

Karma Automotive’s general assembly area (Photo courtesy of Karma Automotive)
Drone shot of Karma Automotive in Moreno Valley (Photo courtesy of Karma Automotive)

Karma Automotive is owned by Chinese auto parts manufacturer Wanxiang, and they appear to be in for the long haul. Karma Automotive has 547 employees at their 260,000 square foot headquarters in Irvine and another 217 people work at the 550,000 square foot factory in Moreno Valley.

It’s worth remembering that this isn’t the first time automakers have taken an alternative approach to powering a car. The first gasoline and electric vehicle was introduced at the 1901 Paris Auto Show – a Lohner-Porsche called the Semper Vivus. There were electric motors in the front wheels, and two single cylinder gasoline engines to charge batteries and power the electric motors. In 1969, Popular Science magazine wrote about the General Motors XP-883 plug-in hybrid concept car.

The Lohner-Porsche Semper Vivus

Today’s hybrids mean cleaner air, and reduced greenhouse gas emissions. The latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) which reports on the cost of climate change finds that if the projected 2.7 degree rise in temperature holds, the result will be $54 trillion in actual damage from climate-caused events, like massive hurricanes, cyclones, droughts, and other weather events along with sea level rise, and the displacement of more than 50 million people around the planet.

Of course, the other benefit is that these cars are fast. Electric cars have no build up to reach full power, so when you put your foot down, all of the power can be used. And they’re fun to drive, a bit like traveling to the future.