When V-Vehicle Co. failed to get a federal loan this spring, the general assumption was that it had hit a significant -- perhaps fatal -- roadblock.
But the San Diego startup served notice this month that it is still in the game, changing its name to Next Autoworks and hiring Kathleen Ligocki as CEO. Ligocki, 54, brings significant credibility, having held senior positions at Ford Motor Co. and major suppliers.
Like a bunch of other seasoned executives moving to startups, Ligocki says she relishes the chance to reinvent the auto industry at a small, agile company.
"At big companies, one of the things that has really attracted me is the next thing," she said in an interview. "But big companies, while they're resource-rich, are big battleships."
Ligocki has one advantage with the small craft she's piloting. With backing from Texas tycoon T. Boone Pickens and the venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins, Next Autoworks has the wherewithal to stick around. But, she admits, funding remains a challenge, and the company has applied for the next round of Advanced Technology Vehicle Manufacturing loans from the U.S. Department of Energy.
Although it considered building vehicles powered by compressed natural gas, Next Autoworks plans to launch a small, gasoline-powered car in 2012, Ligocki says. She is guarded about vehicle details. Retail plans are undecided.
Ligocki says the company will attract green-minded buyers with the fuel economy of the gas-burner, as well as sustainable materials and manufacturing, even though the buzz today is around electric vehicles.
"The green space is much bigger than that," Ligocki says. "There are a lot of ways to get to sustainability."