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New auto company planned for former GM plant in Louisiana

Chrissie Thompson

Automotive News | June 17, 2009 – 12:01 am EST


New auto company planned for former GM plant in Louisiana

T. Boone Pickens is an investor; ex-Mazda stylist Matano will lead design

A new auto company backed by Texas billionaire investor T. Boone Pickens and staffed by former Mazda design chief Tom Matano plans to build "environmentally friendly" vehicles in Louisiana.

V-Vehicle Co., of San Diego, will bring about 1,400 workers to a Monroe plant that once belonged to General Motors, according to a statement today from the Louisiana Economic Development Web site. The workers will be paid an annual salary of $40,000. Founder and CEO Frank Varasano said production could begin in 15 months.

“VVC will produce a high-quality, environmentally friendly and fuel-efficient car for the U.S. market,” the statement said. “The goal of the company is to provide the American buyer greater product value and a superior automotive experience.”

Financing also comes from Silicon Valley venture capitalists Ray Lane and John Doerr of Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, said The News-Star newspaper in Monroe. Louisiana businessman James Davison, who owns the former plant, told the newspaper he is also an investor.

Pickens has been actively promoting his own energy plan that would invest in wind power and natural gas. (See link to his plan at right.)

Varasano is a former executive vice president with Oracle Corp. who spent 26 years at the Booz Allen Hamilton consulting firm, according to several Web profiles, which list his age as 63.

Matano, 61, led the design of the legendary Miata roadster and influenced two generations of products in his 19-year career at Mazda Motor Corp.

He left the Japanese automaker in 2002 to become director of industrial design at the Academy of Art University in San Francisco. Its Web site lists him as the executive director today.

A News-Star Twitter account from today’s announcement at the plant quoted Matano saying "this car will be another icon of American industry.” He said details about the the car would be released later.

The factory most recently was operated by Guide Corp. The company was formed in 1906 as an automotive lamp-repair company. It later became GM’s Delphi Lighting unit and was spun off in 1998, a year before GM and Delphi Corp. separated.

Production at the Monroe plant ceased in January 2007 as Guide’s assets were put up for auction. The company succumbed to global competition, legacy costs and a lack of funding to develop capital-intensive modern lighting systems.

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