VL Automotive combines Fisker shell with Corvette engine

DETROIT Tue Jan 15, 2013 7:13pm EST

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DETROIT Jan 15 (Reuters) - Bob Lutz, who championed the Chevrolet Volt plug-in hybrid, was at the Detroit auto show on Tuesday pitching a new venture that combines an electric car's exterior with a high-performance gasoline-powered engine.

VL Automotive, a tiny boutique carmaker less than a half-year-old and maker so far of only two cars, is combining the shell of a Fisker Karma with the guts of a Chevrolet Corvette ZR1.

The venture's new car, the Destino, will be priced around $180,000, said Lutz and his partner in VL Automotive, Gilbert Villarreal.

Lutz said the car is for buyers who do not mind spending a lot of money for a high-performance four-door sedan. The Corvette is a two-door sports car.

The two Destinos that VL Automotive has put together so far were shown to the press Monday and Tuesday at the auto show in Detroit.

Lutz, 80, who retired from General Motors Co in 2010, said he knows it may seem strange that he is associated with a relative gas-guzzling car after being instrumental in the development of the Volt.

"It may seem odd on the surface of it," Lutz said.

He added that he is responding to customer need.

"When you look at the high-performance sedan, that's where the piston engine triumphs, and will, probably for another 15 or 20 years," Lutz said.

Villarreal and Lutz said they decided to put together the Fisker Karma with the engine and drivetrain of the high-performance Corvette ZR1 engine about six months ago.

The two said Henrik Fisker, founder of Fisker Automotive, allowed them to use the shell of the Karma as long as they modified it so it could be distinguished from the fully electric-powered car.

The Destino still has the outline of a Karma, with new faces to the front and the rear and a different roof. The Destino is likely to have a carbon fiber roof, Lutz said.

"We got a Fisker and we got a ZR1 drivetrain and it didn't cost very much money to put them together," Lutz said.

Villarreal and Lutz said they plan to build 20 Destino from the gliders they have already bought from Fisker and then see how much interest in the car there is.

Villarreal said that Fisker wants to have a minimum order of 150 Karma shells, called "gliders," a year.

Anywhere between 25 and 90 workers will be hired to put together the Destino at Villarreal's facilities in Auburn Hills, Michigan, north of Detroit. The actual number will depend on demand, Villarreal said.

Villarreal said he and Lutz are trying to find dealers who will help them distribute their cars.

Chevrolet is rolling out a new version of the Corvette this year, but the high-performance version of the iconic American car, the ZR1, will not be available for about two years, he said.

So he expects a "three-year run" with the current Corvette ZR1 engines, Lutz said.

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