It’s an interesting time to be writing about cars. In fact, it’s always been interesting, but now more so than ever. Today the three “U.S.” companies are turning out some of the best cars available in the world, regardless of price class. Quality, reliability, and fuel consumption rival those of the Asians, while dynamic qualities such as ride, handling, steering, brakes, and fit and finish often trounce those of the Germans. The last remaining challenge is the depressing time lag before the bulk of the public figures this out.
Will the newfound excellence of American cars ever turn the tide? It’s doubtful, in an age where many high achievers openly state that they would very much like an American car but can’t face the social stigma of being the only family at the country club without one of the German triad.
I believe we are riding the absolute pinnacle of the “car brand as a social accessory” period. The undeniable (though often grossly exaggerated) lesser fondness for cars among millennials bodes ill for the status-symbol brands. To today’s younger generation, a car is a necessary evil, a transportation appliance rather than an enabler of freedom, pride, and pleasure. Cars are well on the way to total interconnectivity and will be, basically, self-driving mobile browsers and gaming stations.
The new technology will be safe and highly efficient, enabling humans to be productive while “driving.” It will also be boring, marking the end of a captivating, emotion-laden technological era. I probably won’t see it happen in my remaining lifespan, and I don’t regret it.
“Gilbert wondered if his favorite car stylewise, the Karma, could be combined with his favorite high-performance car, the ZR-1.”
In the meantime, I’m building a 200-mph luxury car that celebrates everything about the spirit of automobiles that has captivated me since the age of 3. Here’s the story of the VL Destino, a unique automobile in many respects.
First, it will be the only limited-production American sedan with a price in the neighborhood of $200,000. Second, it defies what many believe to be an irreversible trend toward electrification, in that it is essentially a plug-in hybrid Fisker Karma minus that car’s bug-prone batteries and electrical system. Those “sparky bits” are being replaced by a 630-bhp Corvette ZR-1 supercharged V-8 with a GM six-speed automatic transaxle.
The result is a strikingly beautiful, low, sporting four-door sedan with breathtaking performance and a high level of refinement. It should, with its huge power and slippery shape, be among the fastest four-door cars in the world, with an (un)usable top speed of around 200 mph. It will be 1,000 pounds lighter than its Karma sibling, thanks to the elimination of the huge battery pack and related systems.
I wish I could take the credit, but the dawn of the idea came from my friend and business partner Gilbert Villarreal, a Michigan industrialist. Fascinated by both speed and beauty, Gilbert wondered if his favorite car stylewise, the Karma, could be combined with his favorite high-performance car, the ZR-1 Corvette.
I was skeptical, knowing from my long automotive career how difficult such seemingly logical programs are to execute in our environment of roof-to-road government regulations. Gilbert was undaunted and purchased some old Fisker prototypes, plus some Corvette LS-9 engines, and had his lads set to work with wrenches and cutting torches. To my surprise, the fit was easy, and we soon had two running cars for the auto-show circuit. That, as usual, was the easy part.
The Fisker (our source of cars minus batteries) bankruptcy, unpaid Fisker suppliers, and myriad electronic and other problems requiring not only solutions that worked but also ones that would reliably satisfy the demands of the federal safety and emissions watchdogs all combined to chew up far more time and capital than we had hoped. We’re now almost there. Driving the prototype is a thrill. The car is nimble, with precise steering and confidence-inspiring brakes. Like the Corvette ZR-1, the Destino has rocket-sled acceleration and a top speed near or over 200 mph. All this performance comes wrapped in a quiet, luxurious interior.
Our company, VL Automotive, is part of the well-funded GTA (GreenTech Automotive) group, thus assuring the means to complete the project and begin VIP customer deliveries late this year. Our customers will be people who seek an exceptional automobile—but one made in the U.S. They will have an unlimited choice of colors and premium leather trim, made to individual order by California interiors specialist Katzkin. With planned global sales of fewer than 1,000 cars annually, VL Automotive will be nicely profitable as one of the world’s smallest auto companies.
This story is from the December 1, 2014 issue of Fortune.