What do you get when you create a company backed by green venture capitalists Kleiner Perkins and former Texas oil magnate T. Boone Pickens? V-Vehicle Co., a mysterious new auto company that just emerged from stealth mode after four years in existence. Former Oracle Corp. executive Frank Varasano founded VVC and is its CEO.
The start-up plans to produce high-volume, low-cost, environmentally-sound cars, but beyond that, V-Vehicle is giving few hints as to what those cars may look like or what type of fuel they will run on. The company will say, however, that its vehicle design is being led by former Mazda designer Tom Motano, who’s credited with designing the RX-7 sports car and the MX-5 Miata.
In the past, wind energy enthusiast T. Boone Pickens has pushed for natural gas-powered cars. It’s a contentious idea, as natural gas isn’t a renewable resource. And judging by the glut of plug-in electric vehicle (PHEV) designs coming out monthly, it isn’t on the radar of most auto companies, large or small. Kleiner Perkins principals John Doerr and Ray Lane are already in the electric car business, having backed Fisker Automotive, maker of the all-electric Fisker Karma sports car. KPCB is also funding another vehicle venture, Oslo-based Think Global, the electric-car company once owned by Ford.
Regardless, backing from investment powerhouse Kleiner Perkins Caufield and Byers proves that the San Diego, California-based V-Vehicle has something up its sleeve. Funding from KP and Pickens is estimated at $100 million, and while that’s a large investment, it’s still not enough to fulfill VVC’s ambitions. In total, VVC is expected to have $161 million of its own money once the project gets underway.
Overall, the company says it needs $340 million in federal loans or other investment to begin production. Today, documents were released by the state economic development showing that VVC would get $67 million in state funding and $15 million from Monroe-area local governments. Those funds are contingent on timelines being met in the retooling of a former Guide headlamp factory in Monroe, Louisiana, where 1,400 workers will be employed that the state will help pay to retrain. VVC will also create 1,800 opportunities for employment outside the plant.
Photo from V-Vehicles’s promo video
“The thing that excites me the most about V-Vehicle Company is that it is a holistic change,” KP’s Lane said. “We’re thinking about, from beginning to end, how to reconstruct a car company.” A privately-owned American car company making smart, fuel-efficient vehicles that consumers might actually be inclined to buy; it’s a refreshing thought.
We’ll find out exactly what V-Vehicle’s car of the future looks like soon enough–the company plans to have full production capabilities ready by 2011.
Additional reporting by Clay Dillow