It certainly made a good story.
As soon as Richard Branson hinted that Virgin has been working on an electric car, journalists started envisioning a looming battle with Elon Musk's Tesla -- two larger-than-life billionaires locked in a struggle to produce the car of the future.
But the story wasn't true. We can officially report that Sir Richard Branson is not planning anything of the sort.
The rumors about Virgin working on an EV to rival Tesla's started when Branson told Bloomberg TV, "We have teams of people working on electric cars." He made the comments in Miami where the Virgin Racing team competed in the all-electric Formula E race.
Branson then referred directly to Tesla. "So you never know, you may find Virgin competing with the Tesla in the car business as we do in the space business. We will see what happens."
An important note here: the "teams" Branson referred to are actually Lotus employees. Lotus provides just about all the EV expertise to the Virgin Racing Formula E Team, including building and operating the cars. The team is branded as Virgin, however. (And as for space travel, constant delays and technical difficulties mean that Virgin has a long way to go before it competes with Musk's SpaceX business.)
After the story broke, Reuters went sniffing around for more details and was informed by Virgin Group spokesperson Nick Fox that the vehicle was for racing.
"We are working with the Virgin Formula E team to develop the plan for next season's cars. Our aim is to build a leading engine and car for next season. Maybe, ultimately, that could be used in the broader car market in the future," said Fox.
That seemed to indicate that the hype was misguided. However, CNN later published comments they'd gleaned from Branson during an interview at the Miami event.
"Virgin Racing has shown that electric cars can be sexy," he said. "That's where you start, and then you create cars for $25,000, $30,000 for everybody."
He later added more cause for speculation: "Yeah, one day, we might do it. We might use Virgin Racing Engineering to develop a mass-market car, but it will have to be very unique."
That caused the story to take off, despite the caveats from Branson and his PR team. And so when we contacted Virgin's Nick Fox for clarification, he made Virgin's position very clear: "We are not developing EVs -- we are developing an electric race car," he wrote.
Branson himself backed this statement up in a recent blog post: "There have been lots of stories about yours truly starting an electric car company to rival Tesla, which are slightly wide of the mark for the moment. I have huge admiration for what Elon Musk and his team have done to develop and highlight the potential of electric cars, and I’m excited about how Formula E racing could help to revolutionize the motoring industry. What's more, it is going to make electric cars sexy."
So that settles it. There are no plans whatsoever for a Virgin electric passenger vehicle. What's more, Virgin itself does not have its own in-house EV expertise, and relies on what it borrows from Lotus to compete in Formula E.