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Designer Tom Matano part of start-up car company in Louisiana

Wed, 17 Jun 2009

A new auto company backed by Texas billionaire investor T. Boone Pickens and staffed by former Mazda design chief Tom Matano plans to build "environmentally friendly" vehicles in Louisiana.

V-Vehicle Co., of San Diego, will bring about 1,400 workers to a Monroe plant that once belonged to General Motors, according to a statement Wednesday from the Louisiana Economic Development Web site. The workers will be paid an annual salary of $40,000.

"VVC will produce a high-quality, environmentally friendly and fuel-efficient car for the U.S. market," the statement said. "The goal of the company is to provide the American buyer greater product value and a superior automotive experience."

Financing also comes from Silicon Valley venture capitalists Ray Lane and John Doerr of Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, said The News-Star newspaper in Monroe. Louisiana businessman James Davison, who owns the former plant, told the newspaper he is also an investor.

Pickens has been actively promoting his own energy plan that would invest in wind power and natural gas.

Matano, 61, led the design of the legendary Miata roadster and influenced two generations of products in his 19-year career at Mazda Motor Corp.

He left the Japanese automaker in 2002 to become director of industrial design at the Academy of Art University in San Francisco. Its Web site lists him as the executive director today.

A News-Star Twitter account from Wednesday's announcement at the plant site quoted Matano saying "this car will be another icon of American industry." He said details about the car would be released later.

The factory most recently was operated by Guide Corp. The company was formed in 1906 as an automotive lamp-repair company. It later became GM's Delphi Lighting unit and was spun off in 1998, a year before GM and Delphi Corp. separated.

Production at the Monroe plant ceased in January 2007 as Guide's assets were put up for auction. The company succumbed to global competition, legacy costs and a lack of funding to develop capital-intensive modern lighting systems.

By Chrissie Thompson- Automotive News