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Gildo Pastor drives solar-power Astrolab electric car in Los Angeles

Venturi: Tiny Company, Tiny Country, Giant Aspirations

Exclusive interview with Venturi Automobile President, Gildo Pallanca Pastor.

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

  • It turns out that Messr. Pastor is an avid reader of EV World and expressed his delight in finally being able to talk to me in person, further inflating my already Zeppelin-sized ego. But what I really wanted to know is "when do you sleep", to which he responded with appreciative laughter, acknowledging that jet lag and having to run multiple businesses on the other side of the world does make life interesting. His main activity is managing his family's real estate business, the largest private firm of its type in Monaco. He is also involved in numerous technology ventures, including Venturi, which he took control of in 2001, shifting it from its focus on building competitive race cars to production of the Fetish electric sports car.

    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.

  • Pastor decided to make the Fetish an all-electric car for a number of reasons: starting with creating a new market niche that didn't force him to compete with Aston Martin, Porsche and Ferrari. Going electric enabled Venturi to bring state-of-the-art technology to the Fetish, which the bigger companies couldn't do. The focus was to bring maximum innovation into one of the biggest challenges in the automotive world: wringing maximum performance out of the relatively tiny amount of energy available from an electric car's batteries.

    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.

  • Using lithium batteries specifically formulated for it by an unidentified manufacturer, the Fetish can do 0-to-60 in under 5 seconds and has a top speed of 100 mph (160km/hr), a decision Pastor says he made because that's really as fast as you can go in most parts of Europe. Range is, of course, widely variable depending on many factors, but Venturi usually tells the media that it can go 250 km (155 mi). A careful driver can do better, a lead-footed one, far worse.

    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.

  • Venturi has firm orders for the first six Fetishes, each of which takes two months to build. By the end of 2008, the company will have built a total of 15 cars out of the limited production series run of 25. Pastor says the car is expensive because he wants it to have the best components available. Fetish is important too as the hallmark of the Venturi name and product line, which shortly will be expanding when a new and different model is introduced at the 2008 Paris Auto Show in October of next year. Pastor told me that we all will be surprised by what he unveils, so based on the spectrum of cars Venturi has debuted since 2004, from the Fetish to the Eclectic to the Astrolab, he is likely to be correct: we all will be surprised. It too will be a limited production vehicle.
  • The Eclectic and the Astrolab, both capable of being charged by their built-in solar panels, were the outgrowth of Venturi's concerns about having to integrate so many batteries into the Fetish. Would it be possible, in the event that oil disappeared tomorrow -- to build vehicles that could recharge themselves and require fewer expensive batteries? Pastor and his engineering team set out to build a pair of vehicles that could redefine driving in the future, but would be available with today's techology.

    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.

  • The carbon composite Astrolab has 3.6 sq m of solar cells compared to the Eclectic's 2.5 sq m. The drive technology is similar in both, which are equipped with the latest generation of NiMH batteries, according to the company web site. the Astrolab sports 7kWh of energy capacity, while the NEV-like Eclectic achieves 7km range from daily exposure to the sun, but if combined with a wind turbine, can be raised to 15km a day in windy areas.

    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).

  • Because of the enthusiastic public response in Los Angeles last week to his firm's "exotic designs", Pastor is considering the possibility of opening a manufacturing facility for one or both of the cars in North America. He acknowledges, however, that both solar cars will only be practical in more sunny Southern states.

    He emphasized that he will be very careful and cautious, moving one step at a time, before making any commitment to U.S. manufacture.

  • Venturi is also involved in the conversion of standard vehicles to electric drive and he also sees this having interesting possibilities in America, as well as in France.
  • Not surprisingly, given human nature is the same everywhere, when Pastor travels, he finds people tend to believe that other nations like Japan or America or France are much further along in term so electric car technology and interest than their own country. The Americans think the Japanese are further ahead, while the Japanese see the United States moving more aggressively to adapt EV technology.

    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.

  • Finally, I asked what support Prince Albert (whom I mistakenly called Prince Philip, who is the husband of Queen Elizabeth of Britain) gives to Venturi's efforts to introduce sustainable vehicles. Pastor responded that the Prince is a great motivation because of his commitment to the environment. However, given the limited space within the Principality, Pastor says that he needs to look outside the borders of Monaco into France to build a facility to do the electric car conversions, which he will talk to EV World about more detail in a future interview.
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    Times Article Viewed: 15685
    Published: 24-Sep-2007

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