AutoblogGreen Q & A with Roberto Jerez, director of Velozzi

Click on the image for a gallery of high-res renderings of the the Velozzi car

For the latest AutoblogGreen podcast, we spoke with Velozzi's director, Roberto Perez. This is the transcript of our conversation.

ABG: I'm speaking on the phone with Roberto Perez. He's the director of Velozzi. And some of our readers – you may have seen the posts we've done about the car, which has some amazing specs. We'll get to those in a minute but it's a very exciting car and I think the most standout number, uh, 200 miles per gallon – that's a number you don't see very often in front of the MPG line but, Roberto, we have some questions for you about the car. Thank you for speaking with AutoblogGreen. I read that you called the Velozzi the "most environmentally friendly, plug-in, multi-fuel electric hybrid vehicle" and I wanted to break those terms down a little bit. Why don't you start with just telling me a little bit about the car and my first question is about the multi-fuel but go ahead and just give our listeners an introduction about the car.

RJ: Well, basically we're trying to develop a car that – it's, like you said, a plugin multi-fuel hybrid electric vehicle. We feel that that a good combination to address too many problems that we have right now facing our climate today. One of them is, you know, global warming or climate change as some people are calling it now and the other one is the energy crisis. We're trying to develop a car that, that uses less fuel and does, you know, address both the pollution and the energy crisis itself. A plug-in, meaning that you can actually plug the vehicle in your house to recharge the battery system. The car is the hybrid car and it draws power mostly from the battery pack and so you can actually recharge your vehicle from the home provided – you know, we advocate this – provided that you have a good source of energy. Most of the energy from the world comes from coal burning, which is not very clean, and so a lot of people have the misconception of having a true electric car is the way to go and in a way it is if you have a clean source of energy such as wind power, solar power, hydro or thermal power. So we give you an option, you know, to charge the car at home provided that you have a clean source of energy. Also in addition to that – it's a multi-fuel, meaning that we have a battery charger onboard that runs on any heavy fuel, whether it's diesel, biodiesel, gasoline, ethanol or methanol and the system is a, is a mictoturbine battery that charges the battery system of the car as the car is stationary or driving, all on demand and. Hybrid means that it's a combination of electricity and, you know, a combustion engine, you know, such as a turbine engine rather and it is an electric car in a sense that the energy that propels the vehicle comes mainly or entirely from the battery pack itself.

transcript continues after the jump.


ABG: So in that sense it's very similar to the Chevy Volt.

RJ: Correct

ABG: But instead of having the different, you know, fuel cell or the gasoline-powered, you know, range extender they call it to charge the battery it sounds like your motor, your microturbine, could use a lot of different fuels, not hydrogen, but a lot of different fuels, straight up.

RJ: Correct. Yes. I mean, what we're trying to do is we're a nonprofit laboratory so we're not set up to make profits. You know, we're actually, we're driven by solution and not for profits themselves. We are aware that there are different fuels that are being advocated. You know, one of them is hydrogen, you know, and hydrogen – that's another subject but we are developing a car that it would be a universal platform where you can actually adapt new technology. Say for instance in the future if there was to be an infrastructure and a cost effective way of using hydrogen, then you can mount, a hydrogen fuel cells battery charger onboard that will replace the micro turbine so we're not set into one system or to one technology. We are open to all of the technologies as they're being developed. So we are accommodating the technology to the car itself. It's just a universal platform. It should be thinking of that way, you know, right now ethanol is a fuel that's been promoted, you know, so the microturbine will take methanol to charge the battery system. So we feel that that's, you know, a more efficient way of going about it. I mean, electrical cars are – they're very high-performing vehicles. I mean, people have a lot of misconceptions on, on, on green cars or electric cars. Everybody thinks that the cars are pretty slow and, you know, they look like boxes and we want to change that perception, you know. Just recently I was reading about the performing of electric cars. The world land speed record for an electric car is 300, I think it's 314 miles per hour one way. You know, and the car was using an electrical engine, 400 horsepower system, clocked 314 miles per hour, I believe and the car weighed, 3,500 pounds so you can reach high numbers, you know, with the technology that we have today just, you know, the hard part is to package it into something that is cost-effective.

ABG: Right and that's obviously what the X Prize, the Automotive X Prize is about. Before we get onto that, because I know that Velozzi was invited or accepted as a participant in the Automotive X Prize. Right now though the car we're talking about – it doesn't exist, right?

RJ: Correct. We have – what we've done is we have the finished the design stage of it. So we have design that we have blueprints. You know, we have an alias model. So we have the blueprints on it. So now we're moving into the early stage of, product development.

ABG: I read that you expect that it will cost me about $3 million to move it forward and that you're asking for donations to put that together.

RJ: Correct because we are, you know, we are a nonprofit organization looking for investors. Everything is through donations and sponsorship from different companies. So we're putting a lot of effort, you know, from own pocket so it's something that we as a team – you know, we believe in the technology. We believe that we can actually make something that can make a difference. You know, we at Velozzi would license the technology to everyone. You know, we will not shelve it or we will not, you know, just give it to one individual so they can profit from it. We want everyone to profit from it. The team that we have is comprised of scientists, engineers, world-class scientists, engineers and car builders. We have on the team, you know, a couple of NASA scientists that work on the power division they're experts on battery power and on alternative power. We have, Formula 1 builders that are working in the team as well. In addition that we have, you know the Weismann Brothers. I don't know if you're familiar with them or not, but they are the number one transmission company in the world they've won ten FIA Formula 1 championships with their transmissions and they're just the best in the business. We have accomplished a very equipped team, a very talented team to produce something that will actually make a difference. We've also not only – we're not only just entering the Alternative division which is what the Velozzi's for but we're also entering the regular division. You know, we're building a car that, that will handle four passengers and it would be smaller in size and more cost effective. You know, we're also trying to develop a car that would be – that would weigh less than most vehicles.

ABG: I believe our – most of our readers and listeners should be fairly familiar with the X Prize. We've featured them quite a bit, but as you said there are two different categories and the one that I think a lot of people are interested about is that main category, the production car. As far as I know you haven't released that much information about what might possibly be.

RJ: Correct. We're been very secretive about that because as you know, we have to have something as a secret, you know. We don't want to give away all our secrets but we're entering the competition in that division as well. It's called the mainstream division. All it is is, you know, it's cars that will – the rules state you have to be a mainstream vehicle. You have to handle four passengers. But what I can tell you about it is that it's gonna have the same technologies. It's going to be pretty much the similar system where you will have a battery propulsion power. It's just a different body style, smaller, lighter weight obviously. You don't have to have all the performance. The reason the Velozzi was developed is to showcase the technology as well. We want to show that, you know, you can have a car that looks beautiful. You can have a car that will go fast and will perform just like any other car and at the same time will be environmentally friendly. That technology is here to actually build such a car.

ABG: Was the Velozzi, the sports model that we're talking about - 200 miles per gallon and the 0 to 60 I think in three seconds – was that in the works before the Automotive X prize was announced?

RJ: It was in the works before the Automotive X Prize was announced and, you know, when they told me about the Automotive X Prize I was shocked. I was happy. I was happily shocked that somebody actually had, you know, made a contest and they were advocating something similar to what we were saying. You know, we were saying the same thing – build a car that everybody wants to buy that, you know, that performs and is beautiful that has alternative technology and that is environmentally friendly. So when we learned about the X prize we were, you know, elated. We were really happy and we met with them and I know them quite well and they're just a great bunch of people. They are really committed to this and I think they're gonna make a huge difference in the world. You know, the Automotive X Prize is one of the best things that's ever happened, you know, to the auto industry. I think, you know, one of the things that I like about the Automotive X Prize and something that we believe as well, is that we are not competing with the automakers. You know, we like to think at Velozzi that we're actually filling the gap between what the automakers deliver and what the customers expect, so we are that assisting them. We want to help them out. A lot of people like to think of the automakers as the bad guys. But they're not. I mean, they, they're running a business and as a business they're there to make a profit and so for them to be shifting gears and then do exploring avenues of technology it's very expensive on them so we know that they need help, you know, and I think sometimes when people get involved, you know, technologies get developed, and they would benefit from that and ultimately the whole world will benefit from the technology that will be developed through the Automotive X Prize. You know, I think everyone's gonna be a winner. Every team that's going to enter into the competition is a winner in my book already. And in addition the technology that will be developed, you know, might be used eventually on, on cars that the automakers are making.

ABG: And to me that's one of the nice things about the mainstream competition, the mainstream category, is that the idea is not just to get 100 miles per gallon out of the car but it's also about mass-producing the resulting vehicle.

RJ: Correct.

ABG: So it sounds like Velozzi's attitude is to design it and then the business plan aspect would be to license it. Is that kind of where you see –

RJ: No. This is what we'll do – we'll build the two vehicles and we'll license the technology to everyone but we'll also mass-produce it. You know, we'll develop. We're still trying to figure out how to do that because we're a nonprofit organization. So we might partner with automakers that are willing to, you know, assure us that the car will be built so we might create an alliance, you know, like Tesla has done. Tesla has an alliance with Lotus. You know, Lotus is building the car for them and so it is doable.

ABG: Obviously, you're not the only car in this competition or you won't be, but you've read through the rules. You understand the way the contest is set up. What do you think of the draft rules that were released and then do you think that there's any advantages that your car will have, you know, to possibly beat the others in a couple years when the contest actually starts?

RJ: Well, I think the rules are still – they're still – I mean, there's a final draft of the rules but they're also revising them.

ABG: Right.

RJ: I feel, you know, they're not completely gone. But I think the rules are fair. They, at one point they had they had 200 miles per gallon as the, you know, one of their goals, I believe, and they just had to go with the 100 miles and, you know, what? You still have 100 miles. It's more reasonable and from 100 to 200 miles per gallon, the difference in terms of damage to the environment is very minimal. So they decided to opt for 100 miles as a goal and to create a race. I believe that the race is good for the rules because we – people like to compete. You know, they were going to have a rally, I believe at first, but they opted to have a race against the clock and so that makes it more exciting. And you want people to watch, you want people to support it, the X prize. You know, the automotive X prize is the platform to showcase the latest technologies and we're excited to participate. You know, we're very proud to be a part of it and the rules, you know, I think the rules are – our team will do well with the rules, you know. We're very confident in that and we know through experience that we can reach those numbers and we can be competitive and so we're very excited.

ABG: Yeah, the idea that, you know, people will want to watch the race – I think there's already a lot of people that are excited about the idea but some of our lengthier articles and interviews about the Automotive X Prize and about the rules and things like that do get quite a lot of attention and one of the things that many of the people are curious about - I'm guessing you don't have the answer but I'm gonna ask you anyway - in the possible production version of the car, any idea of, you know, an expected price tag? I know it's many years down the road but that's one thing that people always care about. They love to see these cars and they think how great it would be to have one but they can't pay $100,000 for a Tesla Roadster, maybe not even $50,000 for a Tesla Whitestar.

RJ: Correct. I think the price that we're envisioning is under $30,000. That's our goal and I think, you know, it's doable. I mean, right now you can take a Geo, okay, a car, and you can gut the car and you in put a system in there for under ten grand to great numbers so it is very doable, you know. The battery charging is something that is now new. I mean, a lot of electric trains have been using that system forever, you know. Submarine use that system as well so the technology is here, it's just about packaging. It's about developing a way of making something very cost effective car in large numbers. The automakers have shown that you can actually sell a car for, you know, for under $20,000. The thing about them is that the need to retrofit to do that particular vehicle and that's expensive, you know, and that's the part that people just don't seem to grasp, you know, is that the automaker still needs to make a buck and every time they do a change and they have to retrofit, it's just costing, I mean, not just millions – billions, you know. I think you just have to – the Automotive X Prize will be beneficial to all of us because it's going to develop technology that the automakers can use so to make something more cost effective. Having said that, the automakers are making great progress. You have the Toyota Prius, you know, a great looking, great car. They claim up to 50 miles per gallon so, and so anything that, that moves us up there is good and I applaud them for that. I think Chrysler just announced two models that are multiple-fuel coming out next year. So, you know, it's all good. I mean, you know, everybody's pitching in a little bit and like I said, going back to the Geo model, you can actually – you can convert a car right now, you know, for under $10,000 to be more efficient very easily, you know. It's not that difficult. But to mass-produce it you have to have the commitment, you know, from the government, from the automakers, you know. Everybody has to pitch in and you have to show them that it's cost effective. You have to, you have to be a leader in a way. You know, I can show them the way.

ABG:I think that's exactly what this exercise is all about and I wish you and obviously everyone else the best of luck because it is a win-win for everyone. Thank you so much for talking with Autoblog Green today and we will keep our eyes open for news from you in the future.

RJ: Thank you so much, Sebastian. Have a good day.

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