Saturday, June 25, 2022

DeLorean CEO all in on company’s move to San Antonio

There was a lot to recommend the reborn DeLorean Motor Co.’s decision to establish its headquarters at Port San Antonio, CEO Joost de Vries said.

“San Antonio — and Texas in general — you’re growing so fast,” he said. “Tesla just moved in next door, suppliers are moving in, Toyota has been here for 20 years. Manufacturing means you have production engineers, supply chain engineers. There’s a lot of brain power here.”

He’s excited, too, about what’s happening at the Port, where the reborn automaker is establishing its global headquarters to develop and market electric vehicles under the brand made famous by the “Back to the Future” films of the 1980s.

And in about a year, he said, electric-powered DeLorean roadsters are likely to start being spotted on San Antonio streets.

“I think you’ll start seeing something late next year right around here, the prototypes, testing validation cars,” de Vries said, “mainly at Southwest Research Institute.”

He spoke last week on a panel assembled by the North San Antonio Chamber, at an event where DeLorean was celebrated for picking Texas as its headquarters.

While largely crowing about positives in San Antonio, de Vries singled out San Antonio International Airport for criticism.

It’s “pretty horrible when it comes to direct flights,” he said.

Converting the airfield at Port San Antonio — the former home of Kelly Air Force Base — to a freight-only airport could be a boon for businesses there, he said.

“You have a huge airport there and some of those facilities could be goods-only,” de Vries said. “You have a tremendous opportunity to look at air freight.”

A conceptual rendering from Port San Antonio of the multi-story office building to be dubbed DeLorean Tower. It will house DeLorean Motor Co. by early 2025.

A conceptual rendering from Port San Antonio of the multi-story office building to be dubbed DeLorean Tower. It will house DeLorean Motor Co. by early 2025.

Courtesy: Port San Antonio

Broader challenges

Other challenges he discussed aren’t unique to San Antonio: They’re facing all electric vehicle manufacturers as U.S. drivers gradually adopt EVs.

First, he said, there are too few public charging stations available so it’s not clear how everyone will charge their vehicles as EVs replace gasoline-powered cars. That’s an even bigger issue for apartment dwellers in San Antonio.

“Where are you going go to charge?” de Vries asked, noting that homeowners can more easily add charging facilities at home.

“Public charging is very expensive and not very convenient. Before electrification for the mass public is possible, the price (of electric vehicles) needs to halve, and charging infrastructure needs to go tenfold,” he said. “We’re still far away from that.”

De Vries said the automaker still has to choose a chemistry for the batteries that will power DeLoreans. The choice is between lithium-ion batteries using iron phosphate, or batteries that rely on cobalt, nickel and manganese. Supplies of cobalt are tight but the other chemistry would require buying from sellers in China.

“The only place I can ethically source (cobalt) is Europe, so that is still up for debate,” he said of the company’s preferred battery.

Either way, DeLorean also plans to introduce hydrogen fuel cell vehicles as an alternative to batteries. Hydrogen is expensive to produce without generating air emissions, but so-called green hydrogen and ambient air can be run through a fuel cell in a vehicle and produce electricity with no emissions other than water vapor.

“We should be able to show our first hydrogen (vehicle) probably within a year,” de Vries said. “There’s just not enough lithium to go around.”

DeLorean plans to produce a low number of its Alpha5 sports car at a factory in Canada, probably beginning in 2024. The vehicle is expected to cost more than $100,000. A prototype of what it’s calling the Alpha5 is set to be unveiled at a California auto show in August.

DeLorean, which has its world headquarters at Port San Antonio, has released the first images of its new electric coupe.

DeLorean, which has its world headquarters at Port San Antonio, has released the first images of its new electric coupe.

Courtesy: DeLorean Motor Company

Port San Antonio plans

Also later this year, DeLorean is set to move into a bigger office space at Port San Antonio. But de Vries said the automaker told the Port’s leaders it needs an even bigger space once it hires the more than 450 workers DeLorean is expected to bring on in the next four years.

A new building — the only such office tower on the Southwest Side — at the corner of the entrance to the Port campus made sense. It’ll be called DeLorean Tower.

“They were rethinking how the Port should look 20 years from now,” he said. “We said ‘We want the corner, because that’s the best visibility.’”

DeLorean has not publicly identified any investors backing the company. But de Vries has said the automaker plans eventually to conduct an initial public offering and trade its stock publicly. Other startup electric automakers that have gone public, such as Lordstown Motors, Rivian and Fisker, have struggled to meet production timelines and their share prices have tumbled sharply.

Meanwhile, established giants such as Ford, GM, Volkswagen and Tesla are pouring billions into producing more electric vehicles.

“I’ll be post-revenue soon, I hope,” de Vries said. “We’ll be cash burning for a couple of years, but that’s normal … You’re first private, then you become public, then you can get into the capital markets and that is just a journey that will take years.”

De Vries also told the group he recently moved from a rental after buying a house in San Antonio — a signal of what de Vries sees as the company’s commitment to the city.

“We are now San Antonio,” he said. “We’re moving our families, our kids are going to school here, and it’s really awesome to see the welcome we got as a startup.”


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