The game-changer

By Jonathan Blum


You could say Roberto Velozzi has automotive blood.

Growing up in El Salvador, he was forever doodling futuristic cars in his notebooks; his father even owned a Mercedes-Benz dealership. But rather than enter the family business, Velozzi, 38, earned a material science degree at UCLA. After graduation he landed a job at the Jet Propulsion Lab in Pasadena, where he worked on direct-methanol fuel-cell technology and continued to dream up concepts for alternative vehicles in his spare time.

By 2007 he was ready to go public with his ideas, most notably a plug-in hybrid featuring a turbine engine that burns just about anything: gasoline, diesel, biodiesel, methanol, ethanol and, with some modification, natural gas. After giving a radio interview about his work, Velozzi was contacted by Germany-based Bayer AG. The pharmaceutical company has an automotive division in Auburn Hills, Mich., that supplies plastics for most GM and Ford vehicles.

In Velozzi, Bayer found a potential partner who could help them promote their latest advances in lightweight, state-of-the-art automotive plastics. "We work with Velozzi to show the potential of our technology," says David Loren, manager of Bayer's alternative-energy vehicle division.

The Bayer partnership gave Velozzi leverage to forge similar relationships with other automotive suppliers, including Ashland and Montreal-based Nanoledge. While he declined to reveal his total investment to date, he estimates that his approach has saved 50% of the expense of a traditional car prototype, which can run $3 million to $4 million.

"We are very proud to work on this project," says Benoit Balmana, managing director of Nanoledge. "Velozzi was able to put together the right automakers to get vehicles off the ground. He has built a very impressive group."

Velozzi and his confederacy of car parts makers currently have two autos in development. The Velozzi is a street-legal, 770-hp, two-door sports car able to go from zero to 60 in less than three seconds, with a top speed of about 200 mph. The Solo is a more mainstream hybrid-electric crossover that will reach 130 mph, fetch 100 mpg and go from zero to 60 in about six seconds, Velozzi claims.

Both cars will use a 50-pound microturbine multifuel engine based on Velozzi's concepts. Both cars will also feature parts that are 40% lighter and more durable -- from Bayer and Velozzi's other partners -- than those of similar cars. Prototypes for both vehicles are expected to ship in the second quarter of 2010, according to the company and several of its suppliers.

The Velozzi is expected to cost from $700,000 to $1.3 million per vehicle, while the Solo will be a lot more affordable, roughly $40,000. Despite the entrepreneur's proven knack for partnering with mainstream carmakers, analysts say Velozzi will be subject to the same pressures that have hobbled the current car industry: decades-old manufacturing plants, management and labor friction, and complex international supply chains that sap efficiency -- plus an insatiable desire for capital.

"This is such a capital-intensive business that it's tough for smaller names to succeed," says Rebecca Lindland, director of industry research at IHS Global Insight, a research firm in Lexington, Mass. "This doesn't necessarily mean that smaller companies won't succeed if they have serious capital behind them, like Hyundai had with Hyundai Group back in 1986."

Naturally, Velozzi and his partners disagree. "There is too much going on for it not to happen," says John Beatz, product manager at Ashland, which supplied specialty adhesives and other attachment technologies to the consortium. "If we didn't think so, we wouldn't be wasting our time."  To top of page

Frontline troops push for solar energy
The U.S. Marines are testing renewable energy technologies like solar to reduce costs and casualties associated with fossil fuels. Play
25 Best Places to find rich singles
Looking for Mr. or Ms. Moneybags? Hunt down the perfect mate in these wealthy cities, which are brimming with unattached professionals. More
Fun festivals: Twins to mustard to pirates!
You'll see double in Twinsburg, Ohio, and Ketchup lovers should beware in Middleton, WI. Here's some of the best and strangest town festivals. Play
Questions & Answers



QHow does a florist sell more in this economy? We changed our business to designing weddings and events only, as the everyday flowers are not selling. We had to throw out too much product at the end of the week -- flowers are perishable! More
Get Answer
- The Flower Lady, Suwanee, Ga.
Overnight Avg Rate Latest Change Last Week
30 yr fixed3.95%4.15%
15 yr fixed3.05%3.11%
5/1 ARM3.71%3.19%
30 yr refi4.03%4.19%
15 yr refi3.11%3.17%
Rate data provided
by Bankrate.com
View rates in your area
 
Find personalized rates:
Index Last Change % Change
Dow 16,380.41 263.17 1.63%
Nasdaq 4,258.44 41.05 0.97%
S&P 500 1,886.76 24.00 1.29%
Treasuries 2.20 0.05 2.14%
Data as of 12:31am ET
Company Price Change % Change
Bank of America Corp... 16.21 0.13 0.81%
Facebook Inc 75.95 3.32 4.57%
Apple Inc 97.67 1.41 1.46%
General Electric Co 24.82 0.57 2.35%
Microsoft Corp 43.63 0.89 2.08%
Data as of Oct 17

Sections

Economists concerned over rapidly rising corporate debt levels in China are sounding the alarm, warning that major changes are needed to avoid an increase in "zombie" banks and firms. More

A new Gallup poll shows that one-third of Americans prefer their boss to be a man. More

As North Dakota's oil boom rages on, the droves of job seekers who have flocked there over the past few years are finally starting to move their spouses to the area and settle down. The result? Lots of babies. More

Market indexes are shown in real time, except for the DJIA, which is delayed by two minutes. All times are ET. Disclaimer Morningstar: © 2014 Morningstar, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Disclaimer The Dow Jones IndexesSM are proprietary to and distributed by Dow Jones & Company, Inc. and have been licensed for use. All content of the Dow Jones IndexesSM © 2014 is proprietary to Dow Jones & Company, Inc. Chicago Mercantile Association. The market data is the property of Chicago Mercantile Exchange Inc. and its licensors. All rights reserved. FactSet Research Systems Inc. 2014. All rights reserved. Most stock quote data provided by BATS.