Venture Vehicles is taking the path of least, or at least less, resistance.
The company plans to make and sell three-wheeled, two-seater vehicles that tilt like motorcycles in a turn. Last year, Venture said it was planning to come out with both an all-electric version of its car, called the VentureOne, as well as a hybrid at approximately the same time.
Now, Venture will come out with a serial-hybrid version of the car first and try to make an all-electric version later, said co-founder Ian Bruce. Unlike parallel hybrids like the Toyota Prius, which use both their electric motors and internal combustion engines to move, serial hybrids are propelled by their motors alone, and use engines to charge the batteries that run the motors.
The company is also looking at a version that would run on liquid fuel, preferably a renewable one like biodiesel, he added.
The change in the road map largely comes down to practicality. Serial hybrids can drive much longer distances than fully electric cars before they have to be recharged or refueled. They also are cheaper to produce, as the on-board charger reduces the size of the battery, one of the most expensive components in an electric car.
The serial hybrid VentureOne will drive 300 miles before it runs out of fuel, and also will be capable of running 40 miles on the battery alone, Bruce said. In 2007, he said the all-electric version of the car would be able to go around 120 miles on one charge. Thus, the hybrid will go more than twice as far.
The car will cost less than $25,000, Bruce said. The company hopes to complete a road-worthy prototype by March 2009 and to come out with production cars around 2010. The company plans to start with the United States first, and then spread its cars into Europe.
General Motors began to tout the advantages of serial hybrids a few years ago when it unveiled its plans for its first serial hybrid, the Chevy Volt. Some critics sneered at the idea, but it has since caught on. Tesla Motors will release a version of its Whitestar sedan, coming in a few years, with a serial-hybrid drivetrain.
Like many of the car startups that have emerged in the last few years, Venture has both its strong and weak points. On the positive side, the distinctive tilt of the car relies on a technology that has been refined over the years. The tilting technology comes from a Dutch company called Carver, which already makes gas-powered tilting cars by hand, in limited numbers, in Europe. Venture has the exclusive right to bring tilt cars to the United States, as well as a right of first refusal to bring similar cars to China and India.
The company also is not relying on the “green” angle to sell its cars. Mostly, it will promote the cars as a fun way to get around crowded cities. The finished car from Venture will hit 100 mph, get 100-plus miles per gallon and go from zero to 60 mph in seven seconds.
“If you drive 1,000 miles a month, you can save $150 to $200 a month on gas at $4 a gallon,” Bruce said.
Another advantage: because it has three wheels, the car is considered a motorcycle by the U.S. Department of Transportation. That makes it easier to bring to the market.
Motorcycles go faster, but motorcycles can’t carry two adults comfortably in a closed shell, like the VentureOne. Motorcycles also don’t come with trunks or optional bike racks.
VentureOne also has landed funding from big-name venture capitalists. In its first round, it landed $6 million from NGEN Partners, among others. The company next hopes to raise $12 million to help it tool up a factory, and plans to follow with a $20 million round to help ramp up manufacturing, Bruce said.
Now, the down side. Venture doesn’t have a factory yet, although it is working with traditional automotive partners in Detroit to nail that down. It later hopes to open a factory in California that will be capable of putting out 18,000 or more cars per year.
Mass manufacturing isn’t easy. Tesla Motors, perhaps the best-prepared, best-funded electric-car company, is not even getting a car a week out of its factory at the moment.
The town car concept, let alone the three-wheeled bit, are also alien to consumers. Oh, and Carver has only built roughly 100 of its tilting cars. Venture will try to come out with 5,000 in its first full year of production.