V-Vehicle Update: Testing a Prototype, Still Hoping for Federal Funds


V-Vehicle, the auto startup backed by the venture capitalists at Kleiner Perkins and energy baron T. Boone Pickens, has begun testing prototypes of the vehicle it aims to build in Louisiana’s Ouachita Parish. V-Vehicle’s director of Louisiana assembly operations, David Hitchcock, tells the local Monroe News Star today, “A lot of testing and validation conducted so far has been in a virtual environment, but we’ve moved on to the physical testing phase.”

This testing is a sign that the startup is moving along, yet the firm is “still awaiting word,” on a DOE loan request, according to Hitchcock in News Star today. V-Vehicle has requested $320 million in funding from a Department of Energy program, and it needs to raise $350 million in equity or loans by March 1 (or else request an extension) in order to trigger most of a $82 million incentive package on offer from local governments.

The startup has plenty of company in the waiting game. More than 90 projects have reportedly requested funding under the DOE’s Advanced Technology Vehicles Manufacturing, or ATVM, loan program. And while low-interest loan awards poured out last June (including $8 billion for Tesla Motors, Nissan (s NSANY) and Ford (s F) ), they have slowed now to just two awards (to Fisker Automotive and Tenneco) in the nearly seven months since then.

This latest milestone for V-Vehicle — progressing to prototype testing of its first vehicle years after its 2006 founding — contrasts with the increasing momentum of Fisker, which is also backed by Kleiner Perkins. Although not founded until 2007, Fisker is now closer than V-Vehicle to production. After winning a $528.7 million loan this fall through the ATVM loan program, Fisker last week signed on A123Systems (s AONE) as a battery supplier and partner. It also closed a $115.3 million investment round to meet its equity requirements for the federal loan and help it set up U.S. manufacturing.

To qualify for funding under the ATVM program, new automobile manufacturers such as V-Vehicle need their model’s projected fuel economy (combined for city and highway driving) to be “at least as efficient as the industry average for that vehicle class” for the 2005 model year.

V-Vehicle remains tight-lipped about design details, and the company has not released images of the prototype or disclosed where it’s undergoing testing. Investors have, however, described V-Vehicle’s planned model as “environmentally friendly and fuel-efficient,” saying that it will run on gas and get more than 40 MPG.

That’s not a groundbreaking figure for fuel economy — Toyota’s (s tm) latest Prius model gets a combined 50 MPG rating (51 MPG city, 48 MPG highway). But V-Vehicle aims to provide this efficiency at a much lower price: about $10,000, less than half of the base price for the 2010 Prius and about a quarter of the price expected for Fisker’s planned second-gen model, the plug-in hybrid Project Nina sedan. Putting improved fuel economy within reach for a large portion of consumers could be a worthy goal, but if the feds have an option to support an affordable option that will yield more dramatic fuel and emission savings, it seems to me those would be tax dollars better spent.

Photo from V-Vehicle’s promotional video


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The small-car segment is super-competitive these days, so there’s no reason why Richard won’t be able to get what he wants.

Polly Amerson

(Please re-post this as a community service)
Less than 20 car companies (The ATVM people say there were tons of applications but only a handful were car companies) applied for $25 BILLION DOLLARS in taxpayer money managed by a certain smug group of people at DOE in order to get loans to make green cars for Americans. This was not all of DOE that did bad things, just a private cadre of men led by Lachland Seward

There was enough money to help every single one of the car companies that applied. The administrators applied their interpretations of the law in order to benefit the large lobby group-related firms and avoided every one of the “politically unconnected “independent American companies.

The amount of lobby and influence money spent by each awardee is in direct ratio to the amount of money awarded. Pay-to-play was the process.

The smaller companies, due to lower overhead, could have dramatically more productive results with the money than the large burdened companies yet the money was given out based on political career advantages for the administrators rather than the technology advantages for Americans.

The way the ATVM people set it up (Google “Siry says stifles innovation” for more), the smaller applicants were prevented from getting outside investor funding.

All of the people that reviewed the applications had political and financial connections to GM, Ford, Chrysler and the large Detroit recipients.

Each of those smaller American companies had technology and resources that presented a powerful economic threat, if they got the loans, to the large politically connected companies that did receive funds. The big car companies wanted the small companies cut-out at all costs.

The Section 136 law was written to provide first-come-first serve funding but when the small companies got their applications in first, while the big ones arrogantly felt that they did not even need to apply because it was already pre-staged for them, the ATVM officials changed the rules in order to remove the first-come-first-serve standard of the law in order to cut out the smaller independents.

Some of the companies that have gotten money have backed out of making the electric cars they said they would make. But they still get to keep the money.

The Section 136 Law was created by the lobbyists for GM, Ford & Chrysler when they saw that they were about to go bankrupt and wanted to tap into additional taxpayer dollars by claiming the money was going to be used for electric cars in order to win rapid support for Section 136 by tugging at heartstrings. In retrospect, the money mostly went to gasoline car projects. Multiple public hearings have already shown the sister loan guarantee program to have been a failed program via intentional delays, the head was fired and replaced & massive complaints have been filed by many.

Some of the companies that got the money have already wasted more money than other companies applied for as their total request.

Some of the companies that got taxpayer loan money are not even American companies and/or are doing their manufacturing offshore with non-American employees. Thus, the ATVM process has cost American’s jobs.

Those who got the money had to fill out little, or no, paperwork, went through little, or no, review and were connected to the DOE people who gave them the money and shepherded them through the process. Those who they wanted to keep out were forced to jump through more hoops, were slow-tracked in review and had made no political deals via hired law and lobby firms that the big companies has used to conduit “influence”.

The decision about who would get money was made in 2008 by a private group who then pretended there was a lengthy review throughout 2009 but in fact, the money was pre-wired for a select few.

All of the things that the rejected small companies (who did not pay lobby fees) were rejected for, were the same things that the insider big companies were doing. In at least two cases, big companies who were in violation of Section 136 rules were guided by reviewer-insiders to change their whole business structure in order to become suddenly “compliant “with section 136 while smaller companies received no such “help”.

How does this affect you? It cost you and your friends jobs, it delayed American innovation, it made your family have to breath toxic petroleum fumes for another decade, it furthered a corrupt practice and it hurt domestic small business. This was all about money. Controlling who got to make money off of the technology and who got to delay electric cars so the old oil and steel guys could still make money off of their old assets.

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