Green

Mystery car could sweep the efficient-vehicle market

If you haven’t heard of the V-Vehicle Co. before, you’re in good company. The stealthy new car maker just unveiled plans to produce a fuel-efficient vehicle that could change the game for greener cars — before most of them even hit the market. The company already has a factory in the works in Louisiana, thanks to John Doerr of Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers (a firm known for partner Al Gore and its green leanings) and modern-day oil baron T. Boone Pickens — an odd pairing to say the least.

Not much has been revealed about what makes the V-Vehicle so special, except for maybe its price point. Most electric vehicle makers are struggling to make models affordable for middle-class consumers. And even if they succeed, they plan to produce relatively few each year. But V-Vehicle appears to be geared up for high-volume, low-cost production. In fact, when Kleiner first announced that it would be investing in an unnamed car maker, it said it would be at “the other end of the spectrum” from high-end competitors like Fisker Automotive‘s $87,000 Karma and Tesla Motors‘ $109,000 roadster. So far, affordability has been the missing link in the burgeoning green car business. So if V-Vehicle can pull it off — on the 18-month timetable it’s suggested — it could feasibly motor by its hyped rivals slated to launch around the same time.

That said, it doesn’t sound like the V-Vehicle will necessarily be an electric or hybrid car. It could easily be a car with a highly-efficient combustion engine. In a promotional spot featuring founder and chief executive Frank Varasano (who made his name at Oracle), V-Vehicle calls itself “a new American car company” that will represent “a holistic change” from the rest of the country’s automotive industry. This is perhaps the perfect message for a generation of consumers souring on aging, ailing car makers like GM and Chrysler, yet still eager to see the industry revamped (the company’s factory is predicted to create 1,400 new jobs and infuse Louisiana with $248 million). As Earth2Tech suggests, the company could probably run on brilliant marketing alone, even if it’s just producing a regular car.

But the involvement of Pickens is suspicious. An oilman by trade, he has recently and quite successfully rebranded himself as a proponent of renewable energy sources and natural gas-powered vehicles. He’s been very vocal about swapping out his company’s big rigs for this alternative, for instance. So the V-Vehicle could run on natural gas — that would, in fact, be different from what the vast majority of companies are doing. At the same time, natural gas cars have failed to capture the imagination of the public and investors, finding it difficult to attract enough dollars to compete. It seems unlikely that Kleiner would get involved if this were the big secret. It’s already knee deep in greener companies like Fisker and Think North America, the U.S. subsidiary of Norwegian EV maker Think Global.

On top of contributions from Pickens and the Kleiner contingent (which includes former Oracle president and COO Ray Lane), V-Vehicle says it will receive $67 million in state incentives and has applied for additional financing from the Department of Energy’s $25 billion Advanced Technology Vehicle Manufacturing Loan Program. Yet it seems to have enough money already to enlist some impressive talent: it’s brought Mazda Miata designer Tom Matano on board as chief designer.

Images courtesy of Rentoid.com and RV.net.