Karma shows next use of new EV platform: L4 E-Flex autonomous van

That didn’t take long. Last week, Karma Automotive unveiled its modular E-Flex platform for battery-electric and extended-range electric vehicles. The California automaker said it would soon show proof-of-concept vehicles demonstrating where Karma could take a platform configurable in 22 ways, and how the chassis could serve other automakers interested in buying the E-Flex to jump-start EV development. While we were looking for the inevitable pickup truck that Karma has already teased, we’ve been blindsided by the L4 E-Flex Van. Created in collaboration with Nvidia and WeRide, the van’s primary niche is driverless last-mile delivery, especially into urban areas that prohibit ICE-powered vehicles. Echoing Fisker’s expanded target audience for an off-road Ocean electric crossover, Karma says the van could “deliver critical supplies to underserved areas or act as a first responder vehicle for future disaster relief or public health crises.” The temporary shell for all the gubbins is a Ram Promaster van on a set of Revero wheels.

That self-driving aspect — on paper, at least — is SAE-rated Level 4 autonomy, the “L4” in the van’s name. As the penultimate of six SAE ratings for self-driving cars, running from zero to five, Level 4 doesn’t require a driver at any time, and so doesn’t require any control systems like steering wheel or pedals. Unlike with Level 5 autonomy that can control a vehicle in any situation, the restriction with Level 4 is that the vehicle will only drive itself “under limited conditions and will not operate unless all required conditions are met.” This would be, for instance, in a geofenced area in good weather.

The Nvidia Drive AGX Pegasus hardware powers the pilotless capability. With two Xavier processors and two Tensor Core GPUs, the scalable platform is said to be able to compute “320 trillion operations per second of deep learning.” WeRide developed the AI that runs on the hardware, collating 360 degrees of sensor information from LIDAR, radar, cameras, Global Navigation Satellite Sensors, and an inertial navigation system.  

Karma has said a little more about the E-Flex platform, highlighting the silicon carbide inverter, the hot inverter technology among OEMs at the moment. The E-Flex chassis can handle fast-charging and bi-directional charging, be designed with two or four e-motors, works with any range-extender engine, and is “5-Star NCAP Ready.” After the Revero GT that employs the architecture currently, the L4 Van is the second product to show off the architecture’s range. Three more concepts will follow, including “autonomously driven vehicles, high-performance supercar platforms and more.” We hope demonstrations of all of this follow soon after.