LOS ANGELES -- Next Autoworks, a would-be automaker in California, has a new CEO with roots in Detroit and a host of suppliers ready to provide parts for an efficient small car.
But it lacks a crucial loan from the U.S. Department of Energy to jump-start its efforts. A decision is expected by year end. The San Diego company's previous DOE application, for $320 million, was declined in March.
The department already has provided major grants to two other startup automakers in California: Tesla Motors Inc. and Fisker Automotive.
If the money arrives, Next is ready to get to work.
At a media event here last week, new CEO Kathleen Ligocki released the names of Next's tentative suppliers and showed a prototype of the car. Next has a skeleton staff of 35 full-time employees, mostly engineers.
Next is relying on suppliers to design core components. "The car, not the manufacturer, is at the center of the hub," said Next COO John Harbison. "All our drawings are available to all suppliers, so everyone sees how their pieces fit into the jigsaw puzzle."
Ligocki has worked at General Motors and Ford, as well as United Technologies and Tower Automotive. Previously she headed GS Motors, a Mexican company selling Chinese cars.
Next Autoworks, previously known as V-Vehicle Co., has said it has the venture capital of big names such as Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, Google Ventures and T. Boone Pickens.
The car is a four-seat hatchback built with a spaceframe, a structure assembled from interlocking struts. Exterior panels, such as fenders and doors, are attached to the frame.
At the media event, officials prohibited journalists from photographing the lone prototype. It looks like a rough version of a Nissan Leaf, with chunky styling and a Spartan interior.
By using a spaceframe instead of unibody construction, Next can affix composite body panels that are not structural pieces, making assembly cheaper. It also means the roof can be replaced with a retracting fabric top at a dealership in less than an hour.
The 1.6-liter, four-cylinder engine would come from Fiat Powertrain Technologies. The continuously variable transmission will have six stepped "gears." Interior fabrics and plastic are high on recycling. The door inserts are identical for the front and rear doors and are made of compression-molded wood fibers. The vehicle will be built at a converted GM Guide supplier plant in Monroe, La.
Next has a couple of big cost-saving ideas. Because body panels are a composite, they will not be painted, hence no paint shop. And because the structure is a spaceframe assembled by Magna Cosma, no body shop or stamping line is needed, only a welding line to put frame pieces together.
As for selling the cars, Ligocki acknowledges that Next is "still working on a retail plan." The company expects to sell through franchised dealers, perhaps in the corner of an existing dealership.
Ligocki said the plan is to offer a fully loaded model for less than the base price of a competitor such as the Ford Fiesta, Honda Fit or Toyota Yaris.