Speaker Interview - Ken Stewart, Karma Automotive

Ahead of speaking at the Electric and Hybrid Vehicle Technology Expo in September, we spoke to Ken Stewart, the CSO of Karma Automotive, about what he's looking forward to at the expo as well as his plans for the future.

Ken Stewart is responsible for technology, product and business planning for Karma Automotive. His career spans 40 years in the automotive sector, 18 of which have been in the hybrid and electric car business.

Tell us about your role and responsibilities – what do you see as your core focus for the immediate and long term future?

My role is to help guide Karma Automotive’s product, technology and design future to build a sustainable global ultra-luxury car company.

What are the biggest challenges/opportunities you face as a business and as a sector?

The level of change underway on board the automobile is immense.  It requires vehicle development to manage much more systems complexity yet competition is not giving you any extra time.  You end up doing more things and doing them faster and smarter just to stay in the game. 

To what extent will international regulation determine the future of the industry? 

International regulation is beginning to align across regions and the momentum for progressive regulations is continuing to build.

Do you think there is a long term commercial viability for 48v hybrid technologies? 

Yes I do.  Technology solutions such as 48v will sort themselves out based on the vehicle’s duty cycle and use cases.  No one technology is best for all applications and so many technologies will co-exist in the marketplace.

How do you see the future development of the plug in and the evolution of fast charging infrastructure? 

We are exclusively a plug in automaker and we see growth in every market.  Fast charging infrastructures will also grow as the chicken and the egg market conditions develop.

What are the implications of intelligent mobility and autonomous vehicles for hybrids and EVs? 

Intelligent mobility/autonomous and electrified powertrains do not require each other but are part of the same set of sweeping trends in our industry. 

What do you see as the likely sequence of HEV autonomous vehicle adoption in the global marketplace? 

We hear a lot of predictions that adoption will be overnight, usually from those that are selling something.  What we need to hear more about is that adoption will be governed not only by technology but by societal risk, tort reform, consumer acceptance, and socioeconomic status. There are many dynamics in play.

What will be the usage patterns for autonomous vehicles? 

The more you can pre-determine the in-use risk, the more likely you will see autonomous vehicles.  Closed campus fleets, over the highway platooning, shuttles with set routes will be first. Less randomness.

How are Karma Automotive positioning themselves in autonomous space? 

Our ultra-luxury buyers like cars and like to drive them.  We think there is still a market there for quite some time.  That said, the definition of a high-luxury automobile is changing and we fully intend to remain competitive.

How do you see regulation impacting the sector? 

There is no question that the level of technological innovation is happening at a faster pace than the regulation of the industry itself.  Similar to emissions and GHG regulations, the industry needs clarity and certainty of future regulations so they can efficiently go to work to address them with technology solutions that are affordable.

What are you most looking forward to at the Battery Show 2017? 

One metric is fundamental to the industry right now; Dollars spent per kWhr of energy on board the vehicle.  The battery show has the ability to affect the entire industry.

You can see Ken Stewart's talk at the Electric and Hybrid Vehicle Technology Expo at 11:05am on September 12th.

A full list of speakers can be found here.

And you can click here for a full list of exhibitors.