It’s unlike anything you’ve seen on the road – especially with a civilian behind the wheel. The Karlmann King has been compared to the Batmobile, and that’s just by looking at it from the outside. The SUV has a stunning exterior, too, which further helps to explain why the vehicle carries a whopping $2 million price tag.
And that $2 million figure is just the starting price of the Karlmann King. Buyers can customize it inside and out – boosting the bottom line by hundreds of thousands of dollars. Indeed, one buyer out of Africa put down $3.5 million for their souped-up version of the already luxurious vehicle.
Obviously, the price tag will exclude many buyers from pulling a Karlmann King into their garages. However, the car manufacturer has also made the production somewhat exclusive. They promised to make less than ten of the massive SUVs at their Italian factory, but they have expanded their operation for 20 interested buyers in North America alone.
You won’t be able to miss the Karlmann King if it passes you on the road, either. Its angular, futuristic facade looks unlike anything else on the market. And your outsider’s view will only give you a quick glimpse of the beastly SUV. Its interior is also unbelievable – especially in comparison to the rest of the cars cruising down the streets in your hometown.
For automakers, the SUV has always been a sure bet, according to editor-in-chief of Car and Driver Sharon Carty. She told ABC News in 2019, “The profit margins have always been remarkably higher on SUVs than cars… It’s very American to drive one. You feel much safer on the highway than in a car.”
Not only that, but cars have come to be an outward symbol of wealth for the uber-rich. AutoPacific’s vice president of industry analysis, Ed Kim, explained the trend. He said, “It’s become a sport among young billionaires and their friends – who has the most ostentatious thing, who has spent the most money.”
In 2018 Rolls-Royce rolled out the Cullinan – making it the world’s most expensive SUV on the market at the time. It was the first vehicle from the brand to appeal to younger and new buyers, Kim said. He also admitted that the Cullinan “is big and imposing and not a particularly beautiful work of art.”
For its part, the Cullinan carried a $325,000 price tag without any additions. And other luxury carmakers have come out with their own high-end SUVs, too. Both Bentley and Lamborghini have added such vehicles to their line-ups – attempting to craft their own models that can reach high speeds. The Bentley Bentayga Speed SUV, for example, can amp up to 190 miles per hour.
Still, all of those models pale in comparison to the now-most expensive SUV on the market, which comes from carmaker Karlmann. The company – with a name that translates to Charlemagne – has its headquarters in Los Angeles. However, they actually produce their cars in Italy and receive their financial backing from Beijing-based International Automotive Technologies.
Lead designer Luciano D’Ambrosio supervised a team of more than 1,800 people to produce the massive Karlmann King. Interestingly, they drew their inspiration from stealth fighter jets in designing their luxury SUV. But some of the shape of the vehicle might be familiar to car junkies – its chassis, to be specific.
D’Ambrosio and the design team chose to model their SUV around the chassis of a Ford F-550. It may seem strange that a custom luxury vehicle would use the same form as a pre-existing truck – and one that comes at an accessible price, no less. However, Karlmann’s sales director Michael Nothdurft had an explanation for CNBC.
In 2019 Nothdurft explained to the news outlet that the Ford F-550 was road-tested for its durability and strength to carry a sizable vehicle. And the latter attribute would be especially important for the Karlmann King. That’s because the chassis would be carrying a heavy vehicle – much bigger than the truck for which it was built.
The Karlmann King stretches nearly 20 feet in length, and its base model weighs close to 10,000 pounds. But buyers can opt for upgrades that make the vehicle even heavier. Namely, they can have bulletproof armor installed on the King’s exterior – which pushes the weight up to 13,000 pounds.
The King obviously needs a strong engine to power such an enormous vehicle down the road. Again, the Ford F-550’s components come into play here. Karlmann has kept the truck’s 6.8-liter V-10 engine, although they boosted the brake-horsepower (bhp) to 396. Doing so increases the engine’s overall speed and helps reverse the impact that friction can have in terms of slowing the vehicle down.
The Karlmann King also has the Ford F-550’s transmission and suspension system. Altogether with the V10 engine and boosted bhps, the vehicle can power its 10,000-or-more-pound body at up to 87 miles per hour. The luxury vehicle can take on all types of terrain with its all-wheel drive and suspension system as well.
But the Karlmann King offers more than just a strong frame and engine. As previously mentioned, buyers can opt for bulletproofing on the exterior of their vehicles. They can choose from varying degrees of protection – which comes at a sliding cost scale. And those who want this armor will tack at least $300,000 on top of their car’s price tag.
Furthermore, the Karlmann King’s exterior can protect against more than just a barrage of bullets. The vehicle’s shell can withstand extreme temperatures that might derail other cars, trucks and SUVs. Specifically, the luxury vehicle can operate in an environment as cold as -40 degrees and as hot as a blazing 200 degrees Fahrenheit.
Surprisingly, most Karlmann King buyers have opted to add bulletproofing to their vehicle. But they come from all corners of the globe – some of which might be more dangerous than others. For instance, many purchasers from Africa and the Middle East have opted for an exterior layer of armor on their Kings.
Buyers in North America have also requested the bulletproofing, but their massive cars won’t be finished in Italy. Karlmann sends the nearly completed vehicles to the U.S., where they are outfitted with the armor as ordered. For reference, 20 people on the North American continent have purchased a King as of May 2019, Nothdurft told CNBC.
ABC News also reported that celebrities have been among those to inquire about buying a Karlmann King. Nevertheless, they and other potential owners have more than one hoop to jump through. Firstly, the massive SUV was not immediately “street-legal” for U.S. drivers. The automaker expected that ban to be lifted, though.
Nothdurft told the outlet that it takes quite a while for buyers to get their vehicles, too. He told the news outlet, “It takes an average of 12 months to manufacture one car. They’re all handmade. These SUVs are designed to be really unique.” That’s clear from the outside – where the angular exterior mimics a diamond.
Nothdurft knew, however, that the Karlmann King wasn’t for everyone – and that’s not just because it required such a huge budget. He told CNBC, “This car is the most emotional car that you can see at auto shows. People either hate it or they love it.” Those in the latter group will see it as the carmaker does, though.
Nothdurft told Business Insider in April 2019, “This car is really a piece of art on the road. And so it’s not only for car collectors, but it’s for people who are interested to show that they are different, that they are strong and powerful. So it’s a car for a very limited amount of people.”
Those who do opt in get to put their mark on the luxury SUV – especially when it comes to the vehicle’s interior. Nothdurft continued, “Inside, in principle, everything the client can imagine, we can do.” And the rear of the car has plenty of room for that imagination; the 20-foot-long car has ample space for over-the-top accessories.
All of the notable features appear in the expansive rear of the car. Firstly, backseat passengers won’t be cramped into the typical SUV with bench seating for multiple passengers. Instead, the Karlmann King has only two reclining seats in the back. And this, Nothdurft said, provides “big legroom.”
ABC News describes the recliners as “sleeping seats” – which hints at how comfortable they are. Additional proof comes with the fact that they have built-in massage rollers, too. But not every Karlmann King passenger will want to sit back and relax. For them, there’s plenty more to do.
The Karlmann King comes outfitted with a 40-inch TV, on which passengers can play with the built-in PlayStation 4 video-game console. For a party ready ride, there’s also a karaoke machine and a full bar. In addition, Nothdurft suggested to Business Insider that people could stock it with champagne – the flutes are at the ready.
Not every ride calls for bubbly of course, and riders can fill the fridge with other beverages and snacks, too. In place of a real-life barista, there’s also a Nespresso machine. There should be a crystal glass from the bar that would suit an espresso shot or cup of coffee when necessary.
The backseat additionally has adjustable lighting which passengers can raise and lower to their desire – while star-like lights twinkle overhead. Of course, that can all be customized to the buyer’s specifications. In one instance, Karlmann installed strobe lights per a purchaser’s request. They also added crocodile leather and gold accents to match.
If they want to, clients can also choose to fit another door onto their Karlmann King, or they can add more seats to the two-recliner rear. Nothdurft told Business Insider that the vehicle could connect to satellite phone and TV – as well as to Wi-Fi. As he put it, “Whatever you can imagine.”
Furthermore, the Karlmann King comes with a full app control system – which puts the passenger in charge of all the car’s settings. They can also adjust the lights and temperature, as well as the air purification in the vehicle. With the press of the button, they can expand and collapse an electric table and make an SOS call, too.
But the Karlmann King has received mixed reviews from car lovers, and Nothdurft said that it’s a divisive feature at car shows. Furthermore, social media postings about the vehicle have received hot and cold reactions from those taking in the car from afar. In a September 2019 tweet with a video of the vehicle, one viewer commented, “It’s cool but why would you want that?”
Another person agreed, writing of the Karlmann King, “Do you know what I can build for that price? That’s corny.” In a similar vein, someone pointed out the excessive amount of money that buyers would funnel into their new SUVs. They commented, “There goes a chance of taking on world poverty…”
However, the Karlmann King has its fans, too; one Twitter user replied to the same video and wrote, “That’s not a car. That is a rolling movie theatre, restaurant, hotel… dang, it’s smoking!” On another post, someone replied to an image of the vehicle saying, “I would love to drive that.”
No matter what the public thinks of the Karlmann King, one thing is for sure – the luxury SUV is here to stay. LMC Automotive’s Jeff Schuster told ABC News, “From high performance to ultra lux, we have the full spectrum now. We’re beyond the initial interest – ride height – of SUVs.”
Interestingly, Schuster has been surprised at the extent to which luxury brands have gotten into the mix of designing SUVs. Once upon a time, brands like Lamborghini and Bentley wouldn’t stray from sportscars. But, Schuster said, “We’ve cracked through the stereotype that you can’t have an SUV if you’re a supercar performance brand.”
Schuster added, “These brands don’t want to miss out on a trend and an opportunity to increase sales and brand image.” Nissan’s chief product specialist for the GT-R sportscar, Hiroshi Tamura added, “If a customer really, really wants to have an SUV shape, why not? But how many people [will buy one]?”
Still, for luxury brands building SUVs, it will be more than just the shape that ropes in customers. The Karlmann King shows just how much automakers are willing to do – and how much buyers are willing to pay. Auto expert Brandon Mason told ABC News, “At these price points, consumers are expecting all the bells and whistles. People who buy these SUVs don’t care about price. It’s just exclusivity.”
In the Karlmann King, that price point means that customers can get the car exactly as they like it. As Nothdurft explained to Business Insider, the car contains “whatever you can imagine.” As such, “every client will get [their] own edition in principle. So every Karlmann King will be one-of-one.”
And, with the King leading the way, there’s no telling where luxury SUVs will go in the future. Mason shared his predictions with ABC News, saying, “As long as there is appetite to purchase products like this, there is a decent business case. Automakers will continue to push the limit. The high-end SUV trend will continue.”