Great intentions meet the real world

Question: How do you make a small fortune?

Answer: Start with a large fortune, then start your own car company.

I felt a twinge of deja vu when a startup called V-Vehicle Co. of San Diego announced plans to produce a small, fuel-efficient car in a Louisiana assembly plant. Just a few years ago, a Chinese company announced plans to build the MG sports car in Oklahoma. That eventually fell apart, and when I heard about this new deal, my first thought was, "Here we go again."

Granted, this new venture has a sheen of respectability. The vehicle design team is led by Tom Matano, the visionary designer of the Mazda Miata. Investors include Texas billionaire T. Boone Pickens and former Oracle President Ray Lane.

Moreover, the company has attracted a $67 million incentive package from state and local government in Louisiana. Congratulations, fellas. In the casino called the auto industry, that'll get you one white chip.

Here's the problem: The company claims it's going to build a cheap, fuel-efficient vehicle. But they have no economies of scale. They're going to start out producing perhaps about 10,000 vehicles the first year, ramping up to 100,000 or so.

With volumes so low, how are they going to get low prices from suppliers? How are they going to get an affordable powertrain? How is their marketing campaign going to get share of mind in the vast and raucous market known as the United States?

How will these newcomers match the fit-and-finish of the Honda Fit, Toyota Yaris, Chevy Cruze or Ford Fiesta?

I think our readers have this venture figured out. When we asked you when V-Vehicle Co. was likely to launch production, the majority of you said "Never."

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