Could This Plug-In Hybrid Van Be the Future of Camping?

How does 200 miles of electric range and the freedom to use gas stations strike you?


For all the rush towards electrification, camper vans have largely lagged behind the rest of the automotive world in moving towards battery-electric power. Which is strange, because in theory, a camper van seems like the perfect candidate for such a move; not only do they already require more batteries than a regular passenger vehicle to power up things like added climate control systems and kitchen appliances, but their boxy shapes are perfect for adding the large, bulky power packs needed to move a heavy vehicle.

Still, there are some possibilities for EV campers on the the horizon. Ford will be rolling out an electric Transit for the 2022 model year, while Bollinger will be rolling out a chassis cab version of its EV pickup truck around the same time that seems well-suited to battery-powered overlanding. But as pure EVs, both of these come with a caveat; every hour spent using electricity for camping depletes your driving range. And when you’re on the sort of off-grid adventure camper vans excel at, charging stations are far less frequent than gas stations.

Karma Automotive’s E-Flex utility van, however, might offer the best of both worlds. It’s a plug-in hybrid, built on what Karma calls its extended range electric vehicle, or EREV, architecture — a flexible vehicle platform that the company says can be used for everything from pure electric self-driving vehicles to supercar-speedy coupes and sedans. Thanks to a combination of battery packs, electric motors and an internal-combustion engine, the E-Flex can travel up to 200 miles on battery power alone, or 400 miles on a combination of petroleum and electrons.

Further benefiting the camping community: the company says the flexible platform can be retrofitted to fit existing platforms, suggesting Karma is more interested in producing powerplants for companies interested in improving vehicles already out there rather than whipping up entire vehicles of their own. If so, that could mean a Karma PHEV setup could be added to many a regular rolling box as part of the camper conversion process. Considering camper vans are generally created by taking an existing platform and drastically modifying it, we could see adding one of these plug-in hybrid setups becoming just another part of the usual camper van transition.

If the name Karma Automotive sounds familiar, well, it should — it has a long, rather interesting history. The company grew out of Fisker Automotive, which created the Fisker Karma — an exotic-looking PHEV sport sedan — back in 2008. Unfortunately, while expectations were high at launch, Fisker needed another couple years to bring it to market — by which point the Karma found itself outgunned by the Tesla Model S. The car limped along for several more years before Fisker sold off the rights to a Chinese company, which in turn began selling the car as the Karma Revero in 2016 — then used that car to launch a new company called Karma Automotive, which is now pushing into the broader EV and PHEV space. Simple, right?

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