One word: plastics. V-Vehicle, the secretive auto startup backed by oil baron T. Boone Pickens and the venture capitalists at Kleiner Perkins, has just pulled back the curtain for the first time on its future fundraising plans, stage of development and certain design elements of its inaugural model, which includes a plastic shell. The new information comes about a month after the Department of Energy decided against V-Vehicle’s bid for $321.1 million in loans to complete engineering integration and set up manufacturing.
Founded in 2006, the San Diego, Calif.-based startup gave test rides in a prototype of the hatchback four-seater Thursday to a small group of local reporters and state officials in Louisiana. V-Vehicle is looking to build the low-cost, gas-powered, car with higher-than-average fuel efficiency in northeastern Louisiana with funding from federal, state and local governments. V-Vehicle has said it hopes the car will be “among the best of all four-passenger gasoline-powered vehicles sold in the U.S. today.”
According to the Baton Rouge Advocate’s report this morning, V-Vehicle plan calls for building a car out of “patent-pending composite panels,” rather than steel. “There’s no reason to use steel,” Lane told the paper. “Plastic is a perfect shell for a car.”
The prototype driven in Louisiana this week had about 5,000 miles on it, and V-Vehicle VP of Product Development Bob Velanovich told the Advocate that 65 additional pre-production prototypes will be built before consumers can get behind the wheel.
The Monroe News Star describes the model today as an all-white compact “about the same length of a Toyota Corolla but with the width of a BMW 5 Series and a surprisingly roomy interior. It has front-wheel drive and 15-inch wheels.” Company officials emphasized that options will be available for buyers to get personalized graphics and logos applied to the car after it leaves the factory.
Lane, who replaced founder Frank Varasano (one of our 25 Who Ditched Infotech for Greentech) earlier this month as CEO of V-Vehicle, reiterated the company’s plans to submit a revised application for funding under the Department of Energy’s Advanced Technology Vehicles Manufacturing loan program. The ATVM program is meant to support U.S. manufacturing of “ultra-efficient vehicles,” including plug-ins, hybrids and more conventional models that deliver fuel economy improvements of at least 25 percent over the average for that vehicle class in 2005.
Earlier this week the Monroe News Star reported that part of the reason V-Vehicle’s original DOE application failed was because the agency wanted to see more private capital and a distribution network put in place. On Thursday, Lane said the company aims to announce its plan for retail distribution within 1-2 months, and is working to add $100 million in private capital and credit lines to its previous $90 million in equity financing. But he claimed to the Advocate that this fundraising effort has been spurred by internal financial forecasts, not a requirement from the DOE.
Photos from V-Vehicle and Louisiana Economic Development agency’s promotional video and website.