Electric Entrepreneurs: New Power Generation

By Guy Bird for Intersection, Sep 2008

Leading the charge around the world to electrify your car – part 7: Venturi

41 year-old Gildo Pallanca Pastor – born and raised in Monaco – is nothing if not ambitious. The sometime racing car driver lays claim to have launched the first all-electric sports car back in 2004. He wants the Venturi brand he now owns to be the ‘Apple’ of electric vehicles within ten years. That ambition runs in the family, being the grandson of the largest real estate owner in the Principality of Monaco – Gildo Pastor – responsible for the Princess Grace Avenue seaside district among others.

When his grandfather died in 1990 Gildo Pallanca Pastor started managing part of his family’s real estate assets and also got into private equity investment. One of those investments was Venturi Automobiles. He’d been so impressed with the French car company after many years of racing against its vehicles he ‘did a Victor Kiam’ and bought it in 2000. Nothing remarkable in that – small car companies change hands all the time – but Pastor decided he wanted to dramatically change the way Venturi did business. Set up in 1984 it was previously known for GT racing, Le Mans 24hrs and even an F1 team as Venturi-Larousse in the early 90s but as he recalls: “I knew it was the moment to innovate in electric cars, and that electric cars needed to be engineered like race cars. I love to give myself a real challenge.”

“I knew it was the moment to innovate in electric cars and that electric cars needed to be engineered like race cars”

Since then he’s launched three concept vehicles with the considerable talents of independent product designer Sacha Lakic: The 2004 Fetish was the world’s first all-electric two-seater sports car; the 2006 Eclectic was a designer three-seater golf buggy and laid claim to be the world’s first ‘energy-autonomous vehicle’ able to move via solar and even wind power alone (as well as by plugging in at the mains); and the ultra-lightweight Astrolab is an electro-solar hybrid one-plus-one seater sports car featuring 3.6 sq m of photovoltaic cells to power it to 75mph.

The Fetish is already on sale as a production model with a limited run of 25 for about 300,000 Euros and the 2009 version is due on sale within 12 months after a 2008 Paris motorshow unveil this October featuring a new 300hp motor. The final production version of the Eclectic is also due to be unveiled at the same October Paris show. Of course these are largely high value items more likely to salve a few rich folks’ consciences than make any serious dent in global emissions but as well as its own-brand products, Venturi has also been taken seriously by big vehicle makers too, partnering with Peugeot and Citroen to make all-electric vans for the French Postal service ‘La Poste’ to trial.

Pastor cuts an interesting figure. Clearly privileged and having led a luxurious lifestyle in his youth he now says he is taking steps to be much ‘greener’ beyond his new car company signing up to be ‘carbon neutral’. But although he may espouse eating local produce, traveling fewer business miles and conserving water he’s far from a clichéd tree-hugger. His passion for cars started early visiting the local Monaco Grand Prix in 1971 “from school to the paddock” and seeing Jackie Stewart and his Tyrrell racing car. His first experience of driving is as easily recalled: “On my dad’s knees in a Triumph Herald at 100km/h. I felt like flying. I was five years old.”

He confesses putting red Gotti rims on his black Porsche back in the 80s, a car fashion crime he concedes some people still remember today

He started driving himself at the tender age of 11 (in the streets!) in a 1942 Willys Jeep. He then progressed to a Range Rover and finally a Porsche 928 from 15 to 17 years old – “at the time a fantastic car to bring many girls back home“ – before passing his test first time on his 18th birthday, April 1st 1985. He also confesses to having put red Gotti rims on his black Porsche back then, a car fashion crime he concedes, “some people still remember today”. Since then he’s modified a Mitsubishi Pajero to race in the Atlas and Pharaons Rallies and created a world speed record for ice driving – 184mph in a Bugatti EB110 in 1995, allegedly without tyre spikes. He also holds licenses to drive heavy trucks, motorbikes, helicopters and aeroplanes and owns about 30 cars from Bugattis to Venturis. He’s coy about their net worth. “I don’t collect or really buy them, they arrived in my life because of racing or because we built them. I know that I pay a lot of insurance, that’s it.”

Driving still clearly gives him a lot of pleasure as well as a few ups and downs – he describes crossing Africa with his wife as his best driving experience and being arrested in Libya and put in prison considered a spy as his worst – but he’s under no illusion that the way we use cars will change in the next ten years and is determined to be involved.

“By 2020 most cities in Europe will be “EV only”, and we will all have changed our relation to cars, by using them most of the time within a ‘shared fleet’. Most of the large car manufacturers will have electric cars on the market by 2012. We are actually helping them do that by selling some of our technology. At the same time we are ahead and have to keep that advantage.”

Related Articles : Lifestyle