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Upstart auto company lures designer with big-time resume

Automotive News reports on new automaker V-Vehicle and its acquisition of designer Tom Matano.

3 min read

Automotive News

LOS ANGELES--If you had led the design team for the iconic roadster of the last quarter-century, that would be a calling card for quite a while.

But Tom Matano, recently announced as the lead stylist for newly formed venture V-Vehicle Co. of San Diego, has several other resume-toppers to his name besides the original Mazda Miata.

V-Vehicle, a new auto company backed by Texas billionaire investor T. Boone Pickens, last week announced plans to build an "environmentally friendly" car in a former General Motors plant in Monroe, La.

The company withheld details about the vehicle. But news reports quoted Matano as saying, "This car will be another icon of American industry."

Although the company's announcement said the Louisiana plant would be running in 18 months, a time frame of 20 to 22 months is more likely, a source said.

The plant is scheduled to employ about 1,400 people. A source said the supply chain will be almost entirely subcontracted.

V-Vehicle, formed in 2006, has "just under 100 employees," said spokesman Joe Fisher. Its founder and CEO is Frank Varasano, a former executive vice president with Oracle Corp. who spent 26 years at the Booz Allen Hamilton consulting firm.

Private sector investors also include the Silicon Valley venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caulfield & Byers and James Davison, of Ruston, La. Davison is the owner of the plant, most recently operated by auto lighting supplier Guide Corp. before its demise.

Matano is a part-time employee of V-Vehicle. He will keep his current job as director of industrial design at the Academy of Art College in San Francisco.

Matano followed the Miata, penned with Mark Jordan, with the 1993 edition of the RX-7, the last of the Japanese sports cars to be approved as Tokyo's bubble economy burst. Matano's 19-year career at Mazda also included work on the late-1990s Protege and 626 sedans.

Matano made sure his design team worked extra-hard on the rear fascia of a car. His rationale: While the front makes a first impression, it is the rear of other cars that most people spend their time staring at in traffic.

Before Mazda, Matano worked for GM's Holden division and for BMW, where he was part of the team that created the E36-generation 3-Series sedan.

From 1998 to 2002, while leading Mazda's U.S. design arm, Matano was acting head of design for Mazda globally. During that time, Mazda's designers created the Mazda6, RX-8 and Demio hatchback.

When Moray Callum was named head of Mazda's global design, Matano became director of industrial design at the Academy of Art College in San Francisco.

Matano, 61, enjoys lively, wry, debate about design. When told by a reporter that the styling of the 1998 Mazda 626 looked like a Japanese Checker Cab, Matano quickly grabbed a pen and paper and drew a cartoonish taxi for comparison.

He also does not play favorites. He will poke barbs at his own company's designs as well as those of the competition. Matano collects rolling sculpture; he was known to show up at Miata club events in his prized 1967 DeTomaso Vallelunga.

(Source: Automotive News)