The Big Gamble: Supercars Without Track Records

Jim Motavalli

Jim Motavalli | Sep 08, 2015

It’s called a leap of faith. Juan Gallegos, the founder and CEO of Texas-based Lumen Motors, wants you to buy his $175,000 electric car that, computer simulations estimate, should be able to zoom to 60 mph in 3.2 seconds. He’s definitely building the car, and even has 13 employees already, but first he has to graduate from the University of Houston.

Here's what we have for Lumen's Project Skyline: a sketch. But a car is coming. (Lumen Motors graphic)“I’ve always had a crazy passion for cars,” Gallegos said. “At 8, I created a whole list of imaginary businesses, and one of them was a car company.” Of course, he’s still pretty young, and admits that Lumen Motors (whose executives are also undergrads) is an “audacious” undertaking. “But I was inspired by Christian von Koenigsegg, who was able to do million-dollar hypercars without having a manufacturing or engineering background. It’s been a heck of an awesome journey so far.”

Odds are good that nobody on the Lumen Motors team remembers crank windows, or in-car cassette players. L to R: Ruben Rodriguez (Chief Scientific Officer), Dominic Mak (CTO), Juan Gallegos (CEO), and Luis Martinez (CFO). (Lumen Motors photo)The styling is inspired by Aston Martin. The leap of faith is expecting wealthy Americans to spend big bucks on a car from a company with practically no track record. One imagines that buyers of the failed Fisker Karma wish they hadn’t taken such a big gamble.

I love Gallegos’ energy, and he’s thinking about the right things. I hope this enterprise (code-named “Project Starline”) takes over the world. But it’s hard to judge a product based on a sketch.  

Count Trossi's 1930 Mercedes SSK is a rebodied race car, He raced it, and Ralph Lauren (the current owner) shows it. (Jim Motavalli photo)I spent last weekend at the huge Lime Rock "Gathering of the Marques" concours, held where Paul Newman used to race his Nissans. It’s part of a big gala weekend that’s the East Coast equivalent of Pebble Beach. Besides the big-deal judged cars (including the altogether glorious 1930 “Count Trossi” 1930 Mercedes-Benz SSK, which won the top prize) there are hundreds of cool old cars that people just bring to show off.

I noticed a big selection of cars basically like Gallegos’ Lumen, very expensive specialty makes built in tiny numbers. Again, a leap of faith is required. Remember, these aren't Yugos; they want people to spend a lot of money on them. Here are a few I saw:

The Qvale is an Italian Mustang, in production for just two years. (Jim Motavalli photo)2000 Qvale Mangusta. These were built in Modena, Italy at the behest of a San Francisco car dealer named Kjell Qvale (owner of Jensen for a time, and the father of the Jensen-Healey). The Qvale is basically a Mustang under the skin, with an SVT Cobra V-8 under the hood. And one was yours for just $84,200 (a supercar bargain!). The whole project was over by 2002.

The Spyker C8 Spyder: for people who have $219,000 to burn, and faith that they're over the bankruptcy thing. (Jim Motavalli photo) 2009 Spyker C8 Spyder. Yes, $219,190 is a lot of money, especially when the Audi that donated the 400-horsepower V-8 can be obtained for a lot less. But that’s just an Audi. You don’t see Spyker’s coming and going. Car and Driver: “The Spyker people freely concede that style is a critical component in this car’s appeal.” Spyker has recently emerged from the Dutch equivalent of Chapter 11 bankruptcy, so we’ll see if that shakes the confidence of potential buyers.
When just an ordinary Mustang won't do. (Jim Motavalli photo)2013 Saleen Mustang. I’ve talked to Steve Saleen, and he seems like a decent guy. But here’s another bid to get people to buy exclusive Mustangs. Saleen pony cars go up to 700 horsepower, and cost something like $73,000. Saleen has been doing this since 1984, but his company has had horrendous financial problems. When last heard from, it was selling off its assets (including the right to build future cars) at bargain prices.
The Factory Five Mark IV: Windshield wipers and a top are optional. (Jim Motavalli photo)Factory Five Mark 4. There are innumerable Shelby Cobras replicars on the market, so how do you know you’re getting a good one? The Factory Five gets some nice reviews, so that’s a point in its favor. This car here, with a 392-cubic-inch crate motor under the hood, was for sale for $55,000 (with a hideous hardtop). But if you want to build your own, the price is around $20,000—with you supplying the engine, transmission, rear end, wheels/tires and paint. If you really know what you’re doing, the build takes three months.

I dunno, these cars are exciting, but I kind of like knowing—warranties and all that—that my car company is going to be around next week. Of course, people were skeptical about Tesla, too. Nobody had successfully launched a full-scale car company since the 1920s. The bottom line: Go Lumen team! Build me a prototype! Write a practical business plan! Give me a test ride!

Lime Rock fans, here's a video taken in the show field:


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