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Mr Miata makes comeback on green machines

Back then: The original Mazda MX-5 was designed by Tom Matano, who will head up design for environmental car company, V-Vehicle.

Former Mazda man Matano to head design for new US car-maker

18 Jun 2009

A FORMER Mazda stylist best known for leading the design team on the acclaimed first-generation Mazda MX-5 will design environmentally friendly cars to be built in an old Louisiana car light factory once owned by General Motors.

Tom Matano, a Japanese-American who put a Californian stamp on Mazda design through the 1980s and 1990s, will head up the design department for V-Vehicle Co, which has also won backing from American billionaire T. Boone Pickens and Silicon Valley venture capitalists.

V-Vehicle CEO, Frank Varasano, who founded the San Diego-based company in 2006 with the objective of making fuel-efficient vehicles, said V-Vehicles would be making cars at the plant in Monroe, Louisiana, within 15 months.

He said it would employ 1400 workers with the goal of providing “the American buyer greater product value and superior automotive experience”.

The optimism of the start-up manufacturer is in stark contrast with the struggles of the established car-makers and suppliers in the US, who have been battling to survive.

Tom Matano influenced the design of the second-generation RX-7 and 929, as well as the MX-5/Miata, in his 19-year career with Mazda before shifting into academia to teach design in California in 2002.

Although no details of the proposed V-Vehicle car have yet been given, news outlets in Louisiana are speculating that it will have an internal combustion engine.

The involvement of T. Boone Pickens in the project could point to a compressed natural gas (CNG) engine, as the elderly Oklahoma-born, Texas-raised entrepreneur owns natural gas reserves and a string of CNG filling stations across the US and Canada, as well as huge interests in wind power.

Pickens has long advocated a switch to CNG for vehicles, saying gas was less polluting and that oil production was unsustainable.

The Louisiana project will be established in a factory vacated by Guide Corp – a bankrupt auto lighting supplier once part of the Delphi group when it was owned by GM.

The Louisiana state and county governments have stumped up $US67 million ($A84 million) in incentives to help revamp the factory.

Frank Varasano, 63, is a former executive of computer software company Oracle and business consultant with Booz Allen Hamilton.

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