Venturi: Tiny Company, Tiny Country, Giant Aspirations
By Bill Moore
Venturi Automobiles employs just a dozen or so skilled craftsmen and engineers who take two months to hand build a single, $400,000 Fetish electric sports car. Headquartered in the microscopic Principality of Monaco, which occupies a mere 482 acres of land along the rugged but beautiful French Riviera, Venturi has to be one of the smallest car companies in the world.
But its Lilliputian size doesn't keep Venturi's President, Gildo (pronounced "Jeel-do") Pallanca Pastor from thinking well beyond Monaco's borders and well outside the box, as you'll learn from the interview I did with him from his hotel room in Los Angeles just hours before he and his staff flew back to Europe, where his business interests include managing his family's commercial real estate activities -- they are the largest property owner/developer in Monaco -- a radio station, and some 15 venture start-ups. [ Official Resume].
They had come to LA to participate in the Wired NextFest fair; the same event where Killacycle owner Bill Dube nearly caused his super e-cycle to live up to its name when his burn-out demonstration went awry, leaving him with minor cuts and bruises and Killacycle badly banged up.
Fortunately, Venturi's experience was far less traumatic and definitely more promising as the company's two solar vehicles were very well received, and as a result, Pastor is starting to think seriously about potential manufacturing opportunities both in France and here in North America.
You can listen to our 35-minute conversation using either of the two MP3 players at the top of the page or by downloading the 8.6 MB file to your computer hard drive for transfer to your favorite MP3 device.
IN BRIEF: Synopsis of Interview with Gildo Pastor
He explained that he saw Venturi as a way to meld his personal knowledge of racing -- he is an experienced race car driver -- and technology into a single business venture. He had long admired what Venturi had been able to accomplish on the European road racing scene -- including both its GT and Formula One-style cars -- as well as its limited production road cars, of which there are some 700 still in service around the world and which Venturi continues to support. The company also continues to refine its race car, whose mission is to help keep the company on the cutting edge of automotive development.
With the exception of the initial concept version of the Fetish, which originally had been planned to include a small IC engine but was never installed, all cars in the 25-ca, limited production series will be totally electric. The design goal was not only to build a state-of-the-arts electric car, but also one that featured the best handling possible.
Early on, as Pastor recalls, AC Propulsion did offer technical assistance and he expects to continue that relationship on future projects. But beyond this, most of the work on safely integrating the vehicle's lithium ion batteries within the carbon fiber chassis of the vehicle was been done by Venturi's own engineering staff, along with development of the battery management system, which includes its liquid-cooling system.
While the batteries are built especially for Venturi, which probably accounts for a significant share of the $400K price tag, the chemistry has undergone a decade of extensive testing, so Pastor is confident it will be safe and reliable.
He estimated that Fetish has some 54kWh of battery energy available to its 180kW electric motor, which both Venturi and Tesla have licensed from AC Propulsion. However, Venturi is also developing its own motor, which is currently undergoing testing.
The three-passenger Eclectic is the company's version of a Neighborhood Electric Vehicle (NEV) that includes a solar roof to help recharge the car's batreries. A small wind turbine can also be mounted to supplement the solar panel roof. It is intended as a autonomous urban, neighborhood errand-runner with a solar-only range of 7km.
The two-place Astrolab [pictured above] is a true solar-powered commuter with a top speed of 120km/hr (75mph) with an operating range on a single charge of 110 km (68 mi).
It is these two "crazy" vehicles that Wired magazine invited Venturi to show at this year's NextFest. Happily the response of the media and show visitors in Los Angeles was very enthusiastic, which strongly suggests to Pastor that the America people are interested in changing the way they move.
Part of the reason for integrating the solar cells and wind turbine into the Eclectic was to side-step any zoning issues home owners might encounter when attempting to install solar panels on their home or a wind turbine in their yard. Those possible obstacles wouldn't apply to the car.
While the Astrolab is a running prototype and no price has been set for it, the Eclectic can be ordered for EU24,000 (US$33,700).
He emphasized that he will be very careful and cautious, moving one step at a time, before making any commitment to U.S. manufacture.
While in France -- despite the early support for EVs -- there is a sense that the government has to make the first moves before the public will embrace electric cars.
From his recent experiences in LA, Pastor finds Americans keen to find alternatives to their gas-guzzling, climate altering SUVs.