Mystery Vehicle from the Bayou
For all they’re saying, it could be the Swamp Thing. Venture capitalists from Silicon Valley and a reformed billionaire oil man have joined forces, hired a world-renowned car designer, acquired an old automotive lamp plant in Louisiana, and gathered generous government incentives—all the while vowing to “change the automotive business in the United States.”
Details about that change have not been revealed, nor has the car that V Vehicle Company (VVC) intends to produce been unveiled—or even described beyond the most generic terms: “high quality, environmentally friendly and fuel-efficient car.” Tom Matano, designer of the Mazda Miata and VVC Director of Design, said the car could be “another icon of American industry”—a reference to the Miata. It will be powered by gasoline, not natural gas—in spite of the investment by T. Boone Pickens, ex-oilman and big-time promoter of the use of natural gas as a transportation fuel. The News-Star, a local newspaper, reported that the car’s projected retail price is $10,000, which would make it one of the least expensive cars on the market.
Lead investors Kleiner Perkins Caulfield & Byers, represented by VVC Board Chairman Ray Lane, said the company was about “holistic change.” He said, “We’re thinking about, from beginning to end, how to reconstruct a car company.” When established, the plant is expected to employ about 1,400 people.
Kleiner Perkins has previously invested in next-generation auto companies, such as Fisker Automotive and Think North America. But VVC will look beyond private capital to raise necessary funds for initial production. More than $80 million in state and local incentives will come from the State of Louisiana. The company also plans to apply for $340 million in federal government loans from the $25 billion Department of Energy Advanced Technology Vehicles Manufacturing Loan Program.
With Secrecy Comes Scrutiny
Though the company claims to be keeping details of its “revolutionary” vehicle and business model under wraps for proprietary reasons, auto industry observers question the ability of the company—with no track record—to deliver on such big promises. The names behind VVC bring some level of credibility—as does the approval of consulting firm A.T. Kearney, which conducted a review of the business model and vehicle design for the State of Louisiana. But it would be an unprecedented accomplishment for a company—without so much as a website—to bring a “game-changing” new car to the market in less than a year and a half.