25 Apr, 2019 | California

  • An adventurous, striking design inspired by California’s splendor,  history, and  roads
  • An optimistic preview of Karma’s fully-electric, zero-emissions future
  • A thought-provoking presentation of unconventional engineering and trimmings

April 2019 – What is it about California that attracts innovators and adventurers, the self-possessed and daring? They follow a beckoning West to find freethinking individuals like themselves, who over generations built this place into a capital of creative and engineering excellence. They find natural wiles unlike anywhere else in America, from the redwood forests of northern California to the lush, craggy coast of Big Sur, down south through Hollywood and into the Baja Peninsula. The Pacific Coast Highway, also known as “PCH” or California State Route 1, runs the length of the state from San Diego to San Francisco, dancing along the shoreline of Earth’s largest body of water. Driving California’s idyllic coast, life suddenly feels less encumbered … an enchanting escape for those who find freedom behind a steering wheel. Experiencing PCH to its fullest requires the right car, and that car is the Karma SC1 Vision Concept roadster.

Karma Automotive is proud to call California “home.” We draw inspiration from this place and its beauty: its beaches, its mountains, the ocean, the desert … all of it. The Karma SC1 Vision Concept’s paint captures the stunning color of California sunsets. It’s a roadster, because that’s the best kind of car you can drive on the PCH, and also because a roadster is the most uncompromised vehicle you can design in terms of proportion. Its license plate reads “SC1,” a nod to its Southern Californian birth place. Concept design manager Jacques Flynn says, “This is a car for the dreamers, for the pioneers, for the risk takers, for anyone who puts creative force at the front of any statement.”

A message from our CEO, Dr. Lance Zhou:

“Karma’s SC1 Vision Concept is a signpost to our future. It’s intended to provide the world with insight into our long-term direction in terms of luxury craftsmanship, advanced technology, and an evolution in luxury design language. It also shows that Karma will eventually offer full battery-electric vehicles. It’s a thought provoker, and it challenges the view of what Karma is and what it could look like in the future; the design cues, advanced technologies, and customization opportunities displayed through our SC1 Vision Concept will all find their ways into every Karma vehicle we create. It is a big statement as to where we want to push this brand in the future.”

Bringing together three disparate views for one Vision

“The Karma SC1 Vision Concept should be one of the most exciting, unique, and unexpected automotive concepts to position the company with its unique definition of luxury and style. Proportions are extreme yet possible, the aviation-inspired concept appears almost non-automotive, yet it is built on a road-going BEV powertrain. SC1 hints to our future design direction and strategy. It is a positive outlook for the future, and it makes our hearts beat faster when we think and talk about it.”

—Andreas Thurner, Director of Exterior Design at Karma Automotive

After outlining the mission and proportions of the concept car, we announced an internal design competition; designers and craftsman put together proposals for how they thought Karma’s  first-ever concept car should look and feel. A trio of our designers were chosen to develop their designs, work together, and lead the Karma SC1 Vision Concept project: concept design manager Jacques Flynn, Adelaide Begalli, lead designer for colors, materials, and finishes, and Andre Franco Luis, our director of interior design. “Even though we were all doing our own things and had our own sets of ideas and inspirations, the collaboration was very, very strong from the beginning,” Jacques says.

Jacques found his inspiration for SC1 Vision Concept by researching California’s venerable aerospace and aviation industry, and stumbled upon a forward-thinking design: the 1935 H-1 Racer, built in neighboring Burbank by billionaire inventor Howard Hughes. The prototype aircraft was the world’s fastest in its time, reaching a top speed of 352 mph. The rivets on its dramatically long, aluminum monocoque fuselage were shaved smooth to improve aerodynamics, with its wings sanded and polished to shine like glass. “The proportions of that plane and its elegant surfacing were translated for the Vision concept car,” Jacques says.

Andre Franco Luis, who designed the SC1 Vision Concept’s “fits like a glove” cabin, found his muse in Antelope Canyon on the Arizona-Utah border, where sandstone slot canyons are gutted and pockmarked after millennia of rainstorms. Andre wanted the SC1 Vision Concept’s interior to feel like an organically grown but artificially amended structure, like a solid hunk of wood that had been carefully whittled down.

“One benefit of creating a roadster is that since you don’t have the boundary of the roof, you can have the outside environment and inside environment flow into one another, which is why we tried to dissolve the typical boundary lines between exterior and interior as much as possible.”

—Andre Franco Luis, Director of Interior Design at Karma Automotive

As Adelaide Begalli studied new fascinations, she imagined herself behind the wheel of the Karma SC1 Vision Concept, driving north on PCH toward The San Francisco Bay, asking herself what feelings, touches, and sensations she would want to experience in that environment. She started collecting pebbles, leaves, pieces of wetsuits, cashmere, and whatever else came to mind as she replayed the scenario in her head. She says, “The Karma SC1 Vision Concept is focused on pioneering, and not just the way we use materials, or the way we express technologies, but pioneering our own design language and really bringing a new statement for the future.”

“The Laguna Lunch”

After Adelaide, Andre, and Jacques knew what they each wanted out of the concept car, the three drove a Karma Revero to Crystal Cove State Park in nearby Newport Beach to share their thoughts and ideas, agree on an overarching story, and come together as a team to realize a singular vision. The Karma SC1 Vision Concept program officially started in April 2018. Full-size foam and clay models existed four months later, and by October we had scanned the models and translated the concept’s shape into digital polygons and CAD data. Virtual reality allowed us to do real-time assessments of body lines, proportions, ergonomics, and other key vehicle elements to more efficiently make adjustments during development.

An exterior inspired by wind and air

  • Incredible length from Karma SC1 Vision Concept’s front axle to windscreen captures the presence of H-1 aircraft
  • Remarkable resemblance between Jacques’ first sketch and the final Karma SC1 Vision Concept

Jacques says, “It was really inspired by Howard Hughes, the man and his pioneering spirit, how he approached problems a bit differently, and what he took on in aviation in the ‘20s and ‘30s … setting out on new challenges to do things that hadn’t been done before. That’s the spirit we wanted to get into the SC1 Vision Concept, because I think a lot of people who are attracted to Karma can relate, because they too have taken big risks or leaps in their lives.”

At the beginning of the project, the design team collaborated with engineering to dictate where the slender bones of the SC1 Vision Concept had to be, or it would’ve otherwise been impossible to achieve proportion and shapes true to his initial sketch. The Karma SC1 Vision Concept’s stance is assertive, its silhouette stark, and its surfacing unfussy. A strong main shoulder line runs the length of the concept car, and a sharp bone line and deep, thick rocker panels ground the car. Fluidic body sides are unspoiled by excessive trimmings, with two, arrow-like fender strakes behind the front wheels. The multi-dimensional front end is pronounced with a handsomely jagged, cuttingly tipped fascia.

“Designers generally don’t like adding things to what they’re designing. They generally want to take things away until they’ve got the purest expression of what they’re trying to convey. And when something is so simple, it has to be perfect.”

Jacques Flynn, Karma Automotive Concept Design Manager

Positioned just below the thin LED headlights, wide aerodynamic inlets at either side of the front end direct incoming air through two slits that run up and over the hood, hidden behind the arches of the front fenders; from behind the steering wheel, the driver can see slivers of road peeking through. The SC1 Vision Concept’s hood runs half the length of the car, terminating at the base of the panoramic windscreen that wraps around the roadster and shrinks seamlessly in to the deck lid. Sculptural headrests spill out from the cabin to meet the rear spoiler, and an LED strip taillight tracks across the rear end. Side-view mirrors are high-definition cameras, and the cabin is as short, as compact, and as rearward as possible.

Karma’s patented “wing” doors                                                                                                  

Andre says, “The Karma SC1 Vision Concept looks like a fighter jet, ready to dive out of the sky.” Since the entrance to a fighter jet cockpit is through a rising canopy of glass and metal that lifts up from the fuselage, we wanted do something similarly theatrical on the SC1 Vision Concept. Its “wings” required us to develop an articulating hinge so the doors could gently rise up and forward, and rotate around the front wheels. After engineering the doors, we realized we had unused space between the front axle and passenger cell, so we created a hidden, built-in storage compartment behind the driver-side door, complete with tailor-fit luggage.

“When you watch the doors open, it gives you goosebumps … it gave me chills the first time I saw them open. The doors are really special, inviting you into the experience you’re going to have.”

Jacques Flynn, Karma Automotive Concept Design Manager

An interior inspired by earth and rain

  • A simple, smart, focused interior layout is the result of stripping out all possible excess
  • Stratified design creates a multi-dimensional in-cabin experience for driver and passenger alike

Aviation influenced every aspect of the Karma SC1 Vision Concept, including its interior. The two curved screens in front of driver and passenger, as well the two OLED touchscreens embedded in each door panel that control climate settings and seating position, are inspired by an airplane cockpit. Jacques says, “The screens have haptic feedbacks, taken from the aviation industry, which allow you to control functions without taking your eyes off the road.” Andre geeked out over vintage airplane gauges that used bright colors to draw the pilot’s eye to vital information, so he and Adelaide used vibrant sparks of color to accent key interior elements.

Andre approached the interior design as Jacques did the exterior, using subtractive methods to reduce materials as much as possible, and he did so because it’s what he’s observed in nature. He created an interior cradle that looks like it’s made from a one-piece mold, then sculpted it down to achieve simpler, more appealing forms. Because of it, the Karma SC1 Vision Concept has an expertly layered interior that feels airy, but also snug and cocooning. The interior respects to the needs and comforts of both driver and passenger, and impeccably blends the digital and physical worlds, as well as the worlds outside and inside of Karma SC1 Vision Concept.

“It’s about creating an environment. Everything is about enhancing the driving experience, and as a luxury company we need to give our customers the best possible experience.”

—Andre Franco Luis, Director of Interior Design at Karma Automotive

The team played with negative spaces, volumes, shadows, and ambient light to create a sense of depth inside the vision car’s cabin, which uses a darker palette to better contrast the exterior’s searing orange paint. Shell-like seats are distilled into three separate segments — lower cushions, back rests, and head rests — so padding exists only in spots where body meets seat. A lightweight bridge floats atop the instrument panel, and hovering above the center tunnel is a second, more attractive center console that transitions nicely into the armrests. The tunnel, which houses the battery packs, gently cascades down from the dashboard and into the seats, then creeps backward and up on to the deck lid.

Bringing the elements together

  • Never-before-seen materials and finishes give the Karma SC1 Vision Concept personality and voice
  • Computer-backed parametric design graciously filled interior gaps with patterned materials

Adelaide Begalli, lead designer for colors, materials, and finishes, had the fun-but-daunting job of making the Karma SC1 Vision Concept look cohesive. “My inspiration was drawn primarily from Southern California and from the California landscape as a way to celebrate where we’re from,” she says. “Aviation fit right in with the use of materials, and the interior provided us with a beautiful opportunity to use the very snug, very tight space … colors and materials helped with that.”

The Karma SC1 Vision Concept’s use of unusual materials, decorative finishes, and great color is spectacular. Its exterior paint is a one-off, fluorescent orange with flakes of violet mica that contrasts nicely with the cabin, which subtly fades from blacks to dark blues. A thin, color-changing accent light runs the width of the cabin and continues down along the door panels. Rubber neoprene is used on some surfaces — not too dull, not too shiny, inspired by California’s surf culture — bonded with gentle Italian cashmere. The varnished, waxed edges of SC1 Vision’s seats are threaded with impossibly thin, LED-lit fiber and the sides of the soft leather seats are finished in elegantly laced hides. Several interior structures, including the center are made from chopped carbon fiber flakes; each piece is molded by hand.

“It’s about discovering little, tiny details and just falling in love over and over with every single little thing that you see.”

Adelaide Begalli, Karma Automotive’s Lead Designer for colors, materials, and finishes

We used parametric design to better integrate hard materials from the aerospace industry with soft-to-the-touch fabrics. Parametric design’s pattern-generating software regulated the relationship between every aspect of the Karma SC1 Vision Concept’s form and construction to create the most cohesive design possible. The result is like something you’d see in the animal world, “like crocodile skin,” Andre says. “There are hard elements on its back to protect the animal, but around body parts that constantly move, that area is softer. It feels a little bit like that in the interior, too … grown out of necessity to be where you naturally rest your arm, elbow, whatever.” The computer automatically added abstract diamonds of all shapes and sizes to the center console and door panels, then Adelaide hand decorated each highlight line of the patterned filler. Parametric design also allowed us to do “carbon-fiber flakes fabrication,” which is a technique of joining perforated carbon fiber with fabric.

The human-machine relationship

The Karma SC1 Vision Concept will feature the best of some of tomorrow’s cutting edge technologies with our distinctively Karma take on integration. At the core of SC1 Vision Concept’s technological suite will be a new infotainment architecture with 5G connectivity as well as a humanized communication system, which integrates touch, voice, eye, and graphical interfaces to enable seamless interaction with the roadster. Artificial intelligence (AI) understands conversational language and commands, and a camera-based eye tracking system will be capable of biometric identification, allowing for multi-modal authentication of occupants. The eye-tracking system will also monitor the driver’s irises, eyelids, and gaze in case he or she becomes distracted or fatigued, which is when AI safely takes control of the SC1 Vision Concept.

Thanks to eight radars, six Lidar sensors, and a half dozen external cameras, the SC1 Vision is readied for autonomous driving in the future, and constantly interacts with its occupants through augmented reality. If either passenger asks the AI to bring up navigation on the curved screens in front of them, the SC1 Vision Concept not only obliges but also displays a digital overlay that highlights the cityscape and calls out upcoming landmarks and suggested stops. The passenger-side screen can also be used for video playback. Supporting the in-cabin screens is a laser-based, panoramic head-up display that projects relevant driving information on the electrochromic windshield’s embedded holographic optical element, located directly in front of the driver.

Touchless ultrasonic haptic sensors live beneath surfaces throughout the SC1 Vision Concept’s cockpit to monitor occupant gestures and recognize physical commands. The roadster also benefits from nano switch technology; less than a millimeter thick, the ultra-thin nano switch has excellent response to force interactions, prompting various commands for different touch pressures, swipes, or press-and-holds.

An all-new, 3-D surround-sound audio system has an amplifier capable of handling up to 24 audio channels. Active sound enhancement and active noise cancellation ensure music or media comes through the speakers with the purest possible sound quality. We also crafted dedicated sound environments for both driver and passenger; if the passenger is watching a movie, the driver can answer a hands-free phone call, and neither occupant will hear a peep from the audio source next to them. In the not-so-distant future, Karma Automotive will offer the SC1 Vision Concept’s high-end audio system through our guided customization program.

Karma’s SC1 Vision Concept and its future

  • Karma SC1 Vision Concept previews next-generation aesthetics and soon-to-come customization options
  • A signpost to Karma’s future; previews future direction based on full BEV offerings at the company’s core

The Karma SC1 Vision Concept is a reflection of our environment, of our tireless ambition, and of our eccentric tastes. It’s a statement-making styling exercise with indulgent proportions and innovative features, a prologue for Karma Automotive and what’s to come. It’s an homage to our home, California, and built for the strong-willed people we share our home with. It’s disruptive for a cause, boldly and brightly campaigning for an automotive future when new-age design and sustainable powertrains enrich the driving experience. It’s a fully functional, running, all-electric roadster, built on a 2020 Karma Revero platform that’s a foot shorter than stock. Jacques says, “Karma really needed a vehicle like this … it shows how serious we are about design and technology, and how ambitious we will be going forward.” The SC1 Vision Concept defines our brand identity with beautiful proportions, offbeat trimmings, and exacting quality, and it celebrates the aspects of automotive craft Karma loves most.

The SC1 Vision Concept is a real statement of intent for Karma Automotive. We’re looking to evolve the Karma design into our own distinct language, and that means having a little less voluptuous curvature for a sleeker, more focused, faster-looking design. The concept car will influence Karma’s next generation of cars; it will shape the packaging and surface language, and help us make that next step toward our future.”

–Andreas Thurner, Vice President Global Design and Architecture at Karma Automotive  

Karma Automotive is not an old-value car manufacturer but a company building long-term value by being an open-platform, high-tech automotive incubator that celebrates artistic and opulent design. Since our beginnings in 2014, Karma has quietly built a fully-operational enterprise and value chain of nearly 1,000 employees working from: our headquarters in Irvine, Calif.; Karma’s Innovation and Customization Center in Moreno Valley, Calif.;, Detroit Technical Center, in Troy, Mich.; and a campus in Hangzhou, China. We’ve built strategic relationships with partners who want to share our platform and collaborate on developments, who want to take risks to release new, improved technologies; thanks to our dedicated suppliers, we realized the purest possible expression of the Karma SC1 Vision Concept.

Its design will impact all future production Karmas, and its charming features and jewels are being considered for Karma’s library for customization. During development, the engineering team used SC1 Vision Concept as a chance to evaluate next-generation radars, LIDAR systems, and ultrasonic sensors for forthcoming autonomous driving assists. The concept car’s proportions will be the DNA of  various body styles, from coupes, sedans, and convertibles to SUVs, and its platform previews our budding all-electric vehicle program; battery cells will become integral stressed members of overall body structure, and high-capacity battery chemistry will soon be developed in house.

With its wing doors open, the Karma SC1 Vision Concept provokes an overwhelming urge to jump in and drive off. Adelaide says, “It was designed to be on the PCH … maybe go north, maybe go south, maybe take a picnic with you, maybe go see California popping, flowering, and blooming. Just enjoy the coastline.” Not by yourself, Andre adds, because the concept car is uncompromising for both driver and passenger, who can share the experience and “enjoy the ride, the elements, the view, and everything around them.”

A successful project spearheaded by three talented individuals with absolutely no boundaries, the Karma SC1 Vision Concept is a compelling, breathtaking design exercise that begs to be driven through the place it’s built for: California. Jacques jokes, “I wouldn’t say the Karma SC1 Vision Concept is ready to drive to Palm Springs just yet, but it is close.”