Trio goes full speed ahead on Force 1 in Auburn Hills

Michael Martinez
The Detroit News

After making a splash at January’s Detroit auto show with the Force 1 ultra-luxury supercar, the high-profile trio behind VLF Automotive is starting production of the car in Auburn Hills.

That team — former GM and Chrysler product chief Bob Lutz, ex-Aston Martin designer Henrik Fisker and entrepreneur Gilbert Villarreal — created a hand-built two-seater with a muscular carbon-fiber body on a Dodge Viper SRT frame.

The 8.4-liter V-10 Viper engine is sourced from the Texas shop of Daytona 24-Hour race winner Ben Keating. It puts out an astonishing 745 horsepower and is said to have a top speed of 218 mph and launch from zero-60 mph in 3 seconds flat.

The company will produce 50 Force 1s, and they’ll sell for $268,000 each. The first three — which will go to a California dealer — are being built now at the company’s manufacturing facility in Auburn Hills. It will host a launch party for the new cars Sept. 8.

VLF is a passion project among three friends with extensive automotive resumes. Its founders are committed to building unique, low-volume supercars.

VLF Automotive officials, from left, Henrik Fisker, head of design; Wayne Kvintus, vice president of procurement, and Gabriel Villarreal, inventory manager, discuss production of the the Force 1 at the Auburn Hills facility.

“We’re three guys having fun,” Fisker said. “We’re funding it ourselves and doing exactly what we want to do. We’re concentrating on being the small, exclusive American luxury carmaker that hasn’t existed in a long time.”

Lutz echoed Fisker, saying it’s exciting to create something “that nobody else can create.”

“If we had done it to quickly get rich, I guess we probably would have picked something else,” he said.

The Force 1 joins the four-door Destino sedan in VLF’s small-but-growing portfolio. The company, founded in 2012, began delivering the Destino in June. Lutz said they’ve only built a few so far; one sits in his garage, and they also delivered one to guitarist Carlos Santana.

Billed as one of the world’s fastest sedans, the 200-mph Destino is built with a Fisker Karma chassis — from a previous venture by Henrik Fisker — and supercharged Corvette ZL1 V-8 engine. Its 6.2-liter, 638-horsepower V-8 pushes the sedan from 0-60 in 3.9 seconds.

The Destino sells for $229,000, with production planned for 100 per year.

“We’ll build to demand, but I’m telling myself there are 100 people in the world who want a car like that,” Lutz said.

The company plans to expand to a full range of vehicle types, Lutz said. “Once you get the big bureaucracy out of the way, it’s totally surprising how cheaply you can do things,” he said. “We can do small series of highly individualized vehicles at very low investment.”

Lutz said the company does not take deposits for vehicles. It plans to have seven dedicated dealers with full service capability throughout North America in the coming years, and will appoint several international dealers later this year.

For now, VLF is concentrating on high-performance supercars, but Fisker said electrification could be part of its future — something he has experience in.

Henrik Fisker, head of design for VLF, left, and technician Bill Wetherholt work on a Destino at the VLF Automotive facility.

His own electric-car startup, Fisker Automotive, infamously went bankrupt after producing just a couple thousand Fisker Karma plug-in hybrids in 2013. Its assets were purchased by Karma Automotive, a Chinese company that is building a Tesla rival called the Karma Reveo in California.

Fisker is still bullish on electric cars and said he’s “very close” to breakthroughs in battery technology. He hinted at potentially reviving the Fisker name with a pure-electric vehicle.

“I’m definitely working in stealth mode on electric cars of the future,” he said. “If I do an electric car, it’s going to have to be phenomenal, and has to be something that stands out with technology that nobody else has.”

Beyond his duties at VLF, Fisker is partnering with Italian yacht-maker Benetti on a 164-foot super yacht called the Fisker 50. He said he was inspired to take on the project after talking with the company over a glass of rosé in the south of France.

His concept has three decks, advanced solar panels and carbon-fiber accents. The interior can accommodate 12 guests in six cabins that will be cared for by a crew of 11. Other features include a spa, several bars, an ocean-facing Jacuzzi and an upper-deck movie theater that can be converted to a gym.

“They really wanted somebody to think outside the box and shake up the industry a little bit,” Fisker said, adding there’s not as much regulation as there is in car design.

“You can almost do what you want,” he said.

He says he’s also in the early stages of producing a television show about making cars.

“I love what I do and I like to keep busy,” Fisker said. “My work is almost my hobby, I don’t mind if I have to work seven days a week.”