Not long after I expressed doubts on Facebook about the viability of one of the many new companies trying to break into the auto industry with a new-age vehicle, a PR person snapped at me in a private note.
I am jaded, I replied, because I have seen this movie about 500 times in my career and the ending is almost always the same: Startup fails before first vehicle reaches the market.
I don’t doubt the vision, the passion, the drive, the effort or the incredibly hard work these latest entrepreneurs have displayed as they battle long odds to become the next Tesla. The companies I am referring to are Local Motors, Elio Motors, Faraday Future, Lucid Motors, Bollinger Motors, etc.
Just once in my career have I gone all in and followed and reported on a company from its inception, through to an unexpectedly premature end. In the 1990s, when I was the auto writer for The Orlando Sentinel, Dave and Dan Hanlon, two brothers from Minnesota, tried to kick-start a new motorcycle company to take on Harley-Davidson.
The Excelsior-Henderson Motorcycle Manufacturing Co. in Belle Plaine, Minn., raised the funds to build a bruising 1,300 cc cruiser muscle bike called the Super X. The company hired an all-star crew, including the chief engineer from Triumph Motorcycles, and built a state-of-the-art plant.
Two things persuaded me to cover the company: how the Hanlons raised the funds for the project and a track record of keeping their word and meeting deadlines. They didn’t ask dealers to buy franchises to help fund the venture, and they didn’t accept deposits from customers for vehicles that didn’t yet exist -- two practices that are always red flags. Most of the company’s startup money came from private equity lenders, and later the sale of stock.