In Conversation with Jim Taylor of Karma Automotive
Jim Taylor may be the Chief Revenue Officer for Karma Automotive, but it’s also his job to create the brand and the brand appeal. He also happens to be a watch lover, and he was able to share his passion for both watches and cars with Revolution.
What exactly do you do for Karma?
I am in the communication business, and it’s part of my job to create enough attraction to drive sales, and I am also responsible for the sales and distribution.
Are you having fun?
When I am with everyone else, they always say, ‘You must be having fun!’ Then I stop and think, maybe I am. Karma is a startup company and we have a lot of trauma and disorganization, which is normal and natural. If you look at any of the days on my calendar, it’s hard to say it’s fun, but the idea of taking a spectacular looking car and bringing it back to the market and establishing a dealer network, it is a lot of fun.
What makes Karma unique?
The car has a wide wheel base and is quite low. The proportions are almost everything, they are 90% of what makes the car so gorgeous. The shapes and curves that are applied to the surface of the vehicle make it spectacular. You really have a fabulous design, and the car has been with this design for many years, and most car designs get dated, but not this one. Only a few times in history do designs like this get created, like the Porsche 911, and the Karma is one. Fortunately, that’s what we have with this company, a timeless design that needs very little updating, which is a big advantage for us.
The other side of that coin is ‘should we change the design?’ If we did, we would get criticized for it. We had to resist the temptation to conform to the automotive norm and update the design.
I use the watch industry as an example. Watches are fashion in some cases, and you want to be contemporary and fashionable, but there are some great designs that are evergreen. Rolex and Audemars Piguet, for example, have iconic designs that need to change very little. That’s always a struggle and there is always the temptation to drift from your brand and the significant brand statements. As long as the leadership is private, we have the chance of the design staying. It’s tempting to take a winning design and alter it, and we have to resist it. The Submariner is iconic and they change it very little. The Royal Oak is the same, I think it looks just as good as when I bought it decades ago. We need to look at how we can expand the Karma design and keep the same core principles.
What is it like to go up against the big boys in the car industry?
I think the parallel again is the watch industry. We have car companies who have been around for more than a hundred years and they have rightfully earned a lot of respect. For the customers who are in this ultra-luxury space, a lot of their consideration is the brand and the brand strength. Our challenge is to make our car compelling enough that we can become a legitimate competitor to these brands. There is always an opportunity to disrupt. Tesla came through and disrupted and built their brand. We have to build awareness, so people know we exist, and put together a compelling enough proposition so that they consider a new brand.
Who is the Karma customer?
There are a few characteristics of the Karma person—they are people who have done something in their lives successful enough to buy a six figure car. They are probably some form of entrepreneur; they like to do things differently, so those same characteristics carry over to their purchase of a car. Their personality makes up is key. No one has ever been challenged for buying a BMW 7 series, but you won’t be noticed either, because everybody buys them. The person who pulls up in a Karma gets noticed for taking a different path.
We are not trying to sell 100,000 cars, so we don’t have to worry about appealing to everybody. We just have to appeal to the Karma buyer. We won’t be putting a dent into BMW’s or Mercedes’ sales.
What is the automotive business like?
The auto industry is very cut-throat. GM wouldn’t be losing any sleep if Ford didn’t succeed. In the Electric Vehicle industry, it’s different. I want Tesla to be wildly successful and I hope the Chevrolet Bolt is successful, because it helps everyone get used to the idea that electric vehicles are mainstream vehicles and worthy of being considered. They have matured enough so that normal people can drive them. We all hope that everyone is successful. We are all niche players, less than three percent of the industry, so each of us isn’t looking for that much of the pie. BMW, Mercedes, Lexus and the others are having a full blown fist fight.
What do you love about watches?
I have had a problem with watches for a long time, I started small and moved up, and now I’m addicted. I blame my engineering background–I like the physical part of watches, the combination of design and engineering in such a small space. There are functional watches that just tell time. Cars and watches are similar–you can buy a $10,000 car for transport, and no one really needs a $200,000 car, and it still does the same job. The rest is the appreciation of the design, the heritage of the brand, the craftsmanship. I think it’s fascinating how brands communicate with their customers and create that desire. It’s like the kid that puts a Ferrari poster on his wall and dreams about owning it one day.
Can you share some of your favorites?
I have favorite watches in categories. For what I wear every day–I am into Shinolas. The brand has a unique story, and as I am from Detroit, I like to cheer for the hometown guys.
Their customer service is excellent, they take care of me no questions asked. You somehow find out the story, align with them, then you are attracted to it. With Shinola and Detroit, you can’t miss that story, and it’s a pretty good price point for a quality watch. The whole Taylor family is into Shinola: me, my wife and my sons. I like what they have done.
My 2005 Audemars Piguet Royal Oak is what I wear when I go out dressed up.
What is your next watch?
That’s a dangerous question. I have a problem with buying watches, if I tempt myself, I can’t help myself. I have to do an excellent job of self-discipline. I have 30 or 40 watches, which I think is an adequate supply, but we all known it’s never enough. I have one Panerai, and I would love to get another. I think it’s a great brand, it has a functional design and they have done a great job promoting. I have a couple of Rolexes, I like the Submariner very much. I got that one back in 1985, it was one of the first ‘spoil me’ presents I bought. It’s still a great looking watch today.
Do you think Karma will partner with a watchmaker?
There are a number of low-volume, Karma-like watches. We would like to align ourselves with a watch like this, a company that is like us. There are a lot of watches that could and I need to be introduced to these independent brands.