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|Metz makes case for measure|
The company that has plans to manufacture a fuel-efficient automobile at the former Guide plant in eastern Ouachita Parish has shown its product to several state officials as well as to people who have invested in it.
That's according to Horst Metz, vice president of Assembly Operations for V-Vehicle Co., which announced earlier this year it would locate in Ouachita where it is expected to create some 1,400 new, direct jobs and another 1,800 indirectly.
Metz spoke to more than 300 people Tuesday at a Monroe Chamber of Commerce luncheon at Monroe Civic Center. His appearance at the chamber luncheon occurred a few days before Ouachita voters decide whether to levy a 1.8-mill property tax to help pay for an incentives package local officials pledged to lure V-Vehicle to the region. The property tax proposition will appear on the ballot parish-wide in Saturday's election.
"We actually do have a product … a vehicle … a car," said Metz, whose remarks obviously were aimed at speculation in the community that V-Vehicle had not produced a product for economic development officials to see.
"There are many in this room here who have seen it many times," Metz said. "They've sat in it, kicked the tires. It's a model car that's intended to show the dimension and features of the car. It's real, and it's pretty much a 100 percent design."
"We're at the stage right now where we have the production design of the vehicle pretty much set," Metz explained. "There might be a tweak here and there, but we have a fully designed vehicle. We're not showing it to you yet, and I know it's a mystery and everybody wants to see it, but we're just too far away from the launch date to have images out there."
The engineering of the car also is far enough along to begin crash testing prototypes to ensure it is safe and fit for the road, Metz added.
On a financial note, Metz said it was not an easy task to convince investors to spend money on a start-up automobile company.
"Financing was not a trivial matter because we're a car company, and it's a very expensive proposition to acquire capital to get into the business," Metz said.
"We faced a very tough capital market beginning about a year ago when everything fell off the cliff, said Metz, referring to a dramatic downturn in the global economy in the fall of 2008.
"Frankly, we underestimated the challenges we faced in raising investor money, but we succeeded, and we're comfortably ahead of the requirements for financing," he said. "Year to date, our company, at this stage, has the largest capital raised of any other company at our stage seeking to raise capital in this very tough market. There's money in the bank to move forward, and it's real equity money."
Metz said V-Vehicle remains confident the company will receive federal funding through the Department of Energy's Advanced Technology Vehicles Manufacturing Program.
The Energy Department's ATVM program provides funding for companies to manufacture low-emission, high mileage vehicles. The program was part of President George W. Bush's effort to spur innovation in fuel-efficiency and alternative energy automobiles.
When V-Vehicle announced its plans to take over the former Guide plant, V-Vehicle officials said the company had applied for a more than $300 million ATVM loan to aid the company's efforts in establishing a manufacturing operation in Ouachita Parish.
"We feel very good about where we are, though we have not been approved yet," Metz said. "Approval goes through several stages."
Currently, Department of Energy officials are looking into V-Vehicle's financial liability. Officials also are reviewing the company's business plan.
"They will tell the Department of Energy if V-Vehicle is a good bet for these loans, or not," Metz said. "We're very confident we'll pass that hurdle."
"There's all this speculation about when it will be announced, but we don't know because the Department of Energy makes the call," he said.
V-Vehicle is still on track to begin full scale production of prototypes in December 2010. The company expects to start production of saleable cars in early 2011.
Metz said V-Vehicle is serious about hiring as many Louisiana companies as possible during the construction phase at the former Guide facility. So far, out of the nine contracts awarded for the construction and renovation projects, eight of them were awarded to Louisiana firms.
V-Vehicle expects to spend roughly $80 million on construction and renovation of the former Guide plant. The company also plans on installing $150 million of process equipment at the facility.
"That's quite a bit of impact flowing into this community," Metz said.
Company representatives also are meeting with northeastern Louisiana companies that have the capability to supply parts for production of the V-Vehicle.
Two weeks ago, V-Vehicle established a Web site where people could find out more about the company's hiring process. So far, about 2,600 people have signed up to receive notifications via email about when V-Vehicle will begin accepting applications.
People interested in applying for a job at V-Vehicle can visit its web site at vvehiclelouisianajobs.com. The company plans to hire in phases sometime in 2010. There will be three shifts.
The first shift would employ approximately 500 people. At full production, the plant will employ approximately 1,400 people including managerial and support staff, assembly workers, maintenance workers and material handlers.