Out of stealth mode and into the shadows — that’s the road down which auto startup V-Vehicle’s has traveled over the last few months. Since making the splashy announcement in June that it had raised more than $100 million from big-name investors T. Boone Pickens, John Doerr and Ray Lane, and secured a hefty commitment from the state of Louisiana for its high-MPG model, V-Vehicle has kept relatively mum on its progress.
Today Louisiana’s Monroe News Star, which has kept close tabs on V-Vehicle since its public debut this summer, has some updates on the startup (articles appear here, here and here). The key takeaway is this: Much of V-Vehicle’s plans hang in the balance as it awaits word on critical government funding (expected next month), but it is moving ahead with some preliminary work on its factory site in Monroe, and has generated massive interest as a potential employer for the region.
Work began yesterday to move a canal that crosses the V-Vehicle site to the edge of the 189-acre Monroe property. But at this stage, an important question for V-Vehicle and local government backers is whether voters will approve a tax to help fund the project. Local governments committed to providing set of incentives by March 2010 (assuming V-Vehicle meets the requirement of raising $350 million in equity or loans) under a 72-hour deadline in order to lure V-Vehicle’s manufacturing and jobs. But the source of some $12.5 million in incentives included in the package has yet to be finalized. Next week voters in the Ouachita Parish area will decide if they want to pay for the incentives through a 15-year property tax hike. The move illustrates how, in a time of fierce competition for advanced vehicle and battery makers, green jobs don’t come cheap.
So far, more than 1,600 people have signed up for updates on how to apply for jobs at V-Vehicle’s newly launched web site. While of those, there are undoubtedly some who, like me, have signed up for the information rather than the actual job opportunity, the number makes clear the high level of interest V-Vehicle has generated.
In addition to the approximately 1,400 assembly and other jobs that V-Vehicle says it will start detailing “several months before hiring begins” next year, the company has just announced a new internship program with Louisiana Tech University, with plans to offer three paid internships for faculty-selected students selected next summer.
Like so many other auto startups, however (see: Tesla Motors, Fisker Automotive and most recently, GreenTech Automotive), V-Vehicle is eying federal funding for its project. The company has requested $250 million in low-interest loans under the Department of Energy’s Advanced Technology Vehicle Manufacturing program, and executives told the News Star in an article published today that they now expect an answer on that next month. So far, high-profile green car startups under the ATVM program are two-for-two: Tesla and Fisker both ended up securing the loans they hinted at ahead of the DOE announcement. Pretty soon we’ll see if V-Vehicle can make that three-for-three.