In a major front page spread (online today, dead-tree edition yesterday) designed to pave the way for an extension of contract terms, The (Monroe) News-Star says the controversial V-Vehicle company is finally constructing a drivable prototype of the V-Car. This comes eight months after a high-profile announcement at the old Monroe GM Guide Plant of their intent to build and market what the company says is a revolutionary auto design. Since that time, various politicians and company execs have told us there was a car – really there was. It appears they have finally gotten around to doing what they said long ago had been done – building a car that runs.
Perhaps the confusion was caused by what is the definition of “car.”
The News-Star had agreed to V-Vehicle’s preconditions to granting an interview and was allowed to tour the company’s San Diego headquarters and view the car. The conditions forbade the disclosure of details about the car, its technology or distribution model. LPNO had reported last June on the company’s headquarters, “a nondescript converted warehouse on the seedy edge of the city’s downtown Gaslamp Quarter.”
It was not disclosed who paid for News-Star Business Editor Greg Hilburn’s junket to California in connection with the series.
This all comes a week before a major deadline looms in the project timeline – March 1. At that point, according to Section 4.03 (E) of the Cooperative Endeavor Agreement:
If Phase III has not commenced by October 1, 2009, grant payments under Sections 4.01 and 4.02 shall be suspended until Phase III has commenced. If Phase III has not commenced by March 1, 2010, the parties are relieved of further obligations hereunder, except Guideco’s obligations under Section 4.05(B), and the Company’s obligations under Sections 4.06(G), 4.07 and this paragraph. In this event, by April 1, 2010 the Company shall reimburse the State Investment.
Much of the company’s financing plans depends upon approval of a Department of Energy Advanced Technology Vehicle Manufacturing (ATVM) Project loan. V-Vehicle has applied for $343 million in loans, one of which ($78.4 million) is for engineering and the other ($264.6 million) is for manufacturing facilities.
The company is also depending upon over $80 million in gifts from the Louisiana taxpayer, courtesy of the Louisiana Department of Economic Development. According to Securities and Exchange Commission documents, the company has raised only about $65.6 million in private funds for the project.
The News-Star’s Greg Hilburn gives the game away in the last graf of his “Parties await federal loan” story on page 8-A. In it he says if the loan is not approved by the March 1 deadline, the state will have to decide whether to grant an extension, “which is likely.”
Last Friday, however, LPNO had asked Louisiana Economic Development’s Assistant Secretary Don Pierson if there were any plans to renegotiate the original contract and try to extend the project timetables. He denied any such plans.
The company sub-contracted to actually build the prototypes – Metalcrafters, Inc., of Fountain Valley, CA – specializes in building prototype cars from artist’s rendering. Their website notes that they do engineering and design, “From rendered sketches to fully engineered functional moving parts.” The company also specializes in building “camera ready cars” for advertisements, film/video and documentaries.
Another bit of information revealed in the series is that Celene Varisano, wife of company CEO Frank Varasano, is V-Vehicle’s Vice-President of Marketing. She had formerly been Marketing VP at Tambrands, a maker of feminine hygiene products.
We were struck by a quote in one of the series’ articles from company spokesman Joe Fisher. He said, “Why would we unveil the car at a point so far in advance of when people can make a buying decision and squander that public interest.”
We have the answer: Because we taxpayers are paying for most all of it.