T. Boone: Now More Interesting Again, Thanks to V-Vehicle

TBoonegenericLast week right before the news broke that the venture capitalists from Kleiner Perkins and clean energy investor T. Boone Pickens had quietly funded a 3-year-old fuel-efficient car startup called V-Vehicle, I had just started working on a post about Pickens titled, “What Have You Done For Me Lately?” The gist of the story was (and I still largely believe) that Pickens has been really successful on basically one thing so far: getting a lot of attention and educating people. Bringing Americans’ attention to the issue of clean power is very laudable.

But when it comes to the Pickens Plan itself, which proposes using natural gas vehicles and wind to replace a dependence on foreign oil, I can’t claim that it has been equally successful, or will be as promising, as so many adoring posts like this one suggest. The Pickens Plan might have X-number of citizen followers, but natural gas vehicles have not gained much traction among those that matter when it comes to spawning an industry — carmakers, the federal government handing out stimulus money, and entrepreneurs developing vehicle technology. The bulk of the attention right now is focused on plug-in vehicles, and to a lesser extent, next-gen biofuels. And natural gas vehicles only produce about 20 percent less greenhouse gas emissions than a standard gas vehicle, which is about the same as corn-based ethanol.
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Dash for Cash: Startup V-Vehicle Says $500M Needed to Build Auto Plant

In some sectors, $100 million in venture capital would be enough for a startup to make some serious progress. Twitter’s funding at this point reaches only into the double-digit millions. But for V-Vehicle — a startup that just came out of stealth mode yesterday with plans to retool a factory in Louisiana to build high-efficiency, gas-powered vehicles — the $100 million invested so far by venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins, oil magnate T. Boone Pickens and others is only the beginning.

While the state of Louisiana has already committed $67 million for the project, as well as “work force training” worth more than $12 million, according to Louisiana’s News Star, V-Vehicle ultimately aims to raise some $400-$500 million through both equity and loans, including at least $263 million in federal loans.

That won’t be easy. Raising funds for manufacturing and commercialization has been a sticking point for other auto startups. The highest-profile example may be Tesla Motors. Last fall, the San Carlos, Calif.-based electric car startup planned to raise $250 million in new financing — including private financing and a loan guarantee from the Department of Energy —  to build an assembly plant for its Model S sedan in San Jose, Calif. Private financing didn’t pan out, and Tesla now hopes to retool an existing facility in Southern California, relying entirely on the DOE loan program (which favors projects on brownfields) for $250 million in financing. At this point, Tesla is still waiting to get final word from the DOE before going ahead with the Model S plans. Read More about Dash for Cash: Startup V-Vehicle Says $500M Needed to Build Auto Plant

Kleiner Perkins, T. Boone Back Auto Startup V-Vehicle

V-Vehicle4It’s about time two of greentech’s highest-profile investors got together on a deal. This afternoon V-Vehicle, an auto startup that was founded in 2006, came out of stealth and unveiled that it has gained investment from the venture capitalists at Kleiner Perkins — John Doerr and Ray Lane — along with hedge fund manager and former oil baron T. Boone Pickens. V-Vehicle and its investors aren’t saying much of anything about the technology used (though it sounds like a more efficient internal combustion-based car), only that the car would be designed in a new way, would be “high quality, environmentally friendly and fuel-efficient.”

V-Vehicle2

More than a pure technology play, the venture sounds like it’s using the current lack of innovation and good design in the U.S. auto industry to offer a better-designed, more efficient American-made car. Throughout a promotional video founder and CEO Frank Varasano, who hails from Oracle and Booz Allen Hamilton, emphasized that V-Vehicle is “a new American car company;” Kleiner’s Ray Lane called it “a holistic change” from the current U.S. car industry. If the play is more about design and marketing than technology, we’ll see if the investors’ star power in the greentech world will help it actually sell cars in the consumer market (T. Boone has certainly made the crossover to mainstream quite nicely.) It may also help that the father of the Miata, Tom Matano, is leading the vehicle design team.
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Verizon’s FiOS Bet Is Paying Off

Verizon Communications (s VZ) reported a strong first quarter for 2009, growing profits and sales over the previous period a year ago. The carrier reported net income of $3.21 billion and increased sales to $26.59 billion. The 12 percent boost in sales from the same period last year was driven in part by gains from Verizon’s acquisition of Alltel. Verizon’s wireless business showed strong growth, as did its FiOS product. Read More about Verizon’s FiOS Bet Is Paying Off

Freeware of the Moment- Rocketdock

My call for your favorite utilities for UMPCs has gotten me some good recommendations and one of those is our Freeware of the Moment. Our friend HG pointed out that the Rocketdock program is good for UMPCs as it provides a customizable dock that is very finger-friendly on UMPCs. I had to try it out right away, and HG wasn’t kidding; Rocketdock allows you to create a tailored launcher/ taskbar/ gadget dock that fits your needs as well as your screen.
Rocketdock is donation-ware so if you use it you should drop them some coin so development can continue. The program is great, with all aspects of it customizable, from the skin to the icons used. The developers have a nice collection of gadgets you can download for free to extend the usefulness of Rocketdock. Rather than try to explain how cool and useful the program can be just take a look at my current UMPC desktop. I’ve included snaps in both landscape and portrait orientation to show how well Rocketdock makes the transition.