558 N. Main St., Prineville, OR 97754 | (541) 447-6205
Local company to assist in the future of personal transportation
Workman and Sons will be producing chassis and steel-related work for a Bend-based assembly plant for kit cars in Lakeview, Ore.
Jay Bower (left), CTO of Venus Motors Co., and Curt Workman of Workman and Sons, Inc., display a Veepster’s fiberglass body.
November 06, 2012
Bend-based Venus Motors Co., a new player in the burgeoning electric vehicle (EV) industry, recently announced plans to open an assembly plant for its kit cars in Lakeview, Ore.
Using a Volkswagen-based chassis and suspension, and a fiberglass body — available in a myriad of styles — these EVs are the future of personal transportation, according to some.
However, nearly hidden among the details was the fact that the chassis and other steel-related work will be done by Workman and Sons, a local company well-known for its heavy-duty truck equipment.
Since 1942, Workman’s has made a name for itself with its hydraulic lift hoists, truck beds, dump bodies, water tanks, and repair of logging and farming equipment. Now, that same expertise will be used in the production of EV kit cars.
There’s a reason for that, according to Venus Motors’ chief technical officer, Jay Bower.
“Workman is famous for building stuff that lasts a lifetime,” he said, “and the chassis are basically along that same line. We want them to last, and we believe these will be 20- to 30-year cars.”
It may seem counter-intuitive to use steel for a light-weight EV. Not so, according to Curt Workman.
“We considered using aluminum,” he explained, “but by the time you get it strong enough, there’s so much aluminum that it actually weighs more than steel. Plus, aluminum is more difficult to repair.”
Eventually Workman will fabricate all the metal parts including the frame, suspension, motor mounts, windshield frame, roll bars, tube steps, and bumpers.
“We’d just as soon that we build as much of it here in Prineville as we can,” said Bower.
According to Bower, electric vehicles are an ideal choice for municipalities and others who need lightweight, efficient, cars and trucks. However, there hasn’t been much to choose from except for golf carts.
He hopes to change that.
“There’s really no comparison (to golf carts),” he said, “but that’s all that was available for a small, non-fuel vehicle that they could use for meter reading, and things like that. These (Venus Motors) will go up to 200 miles on two dollars’ worth of electricity. These pay for themselves in five to six years depending on how you charge them.
“We’re trying to get funding to where we can produce at least 20 units at a time. Right now we have inquiries for pretty close to 200 vehicles. We just went to the Oregon League of Cities meeting. One city wants one right away, potentially five if they like the first one.”
Bower said their signature model — called the “Veepster” — can be produced in several styles, including a small pickup truck. However, it’s not just utility vehicles they intend to produce. He said the market is there for family transportation, as well, and since the Volkswagen chassis has been the foundation for gasoline kit cars for half a century, there are hundreds of body styles to choose from.
“In fact, the soccer mom car is one of the highest uses that we’re looking at,” he said. “We have some plans, for even this one,” he said pointing to the pan for a ’32 Roadster. “We’ve done a stretch version of this that is a four-door.”
Bower said that once a car is put together — the chassis, drive train, and body — it’s up to the purchaser to finish the interior, except on the Veepsters which are done by Venus. There are good upholstery shops all over Central Oregon that people can tap into, he said.
“It just goes back to the quality that someone wants in their car,” explained Bower. “They tell us what they want, and we give them a list of shops they can go to, to get it all done for them.”
Plans call for Workman and Sons to eventually become an assembly plant, and even to become a dealer. It won’t be long, Workman hopes, before he can cruise around Prineville in his own EV.
“I’m going to have one for myself,” he said. “The sooner the better.”
“When the funding comes through in Lakeview, we’re hoping to have him one in 30 to 45 days,” said Bower.
Workman said that although his company looks to be going a new direction, it isn’t a particular challenge.
“It’s just sheet metal, and forming, and welding together — just what we’ve always done, just for a different product. A lighter product, because it was always heavy trucks, but there are no heavy trucks to be built because nobody’s buying anything.”
And “because nobody’s buying anything,” EVs may be the key to turning Workman’s around.
“The cool part about this is the kit car industry is made up literally of tens of thousands of small businesses across the United States,” said Bower. “It’s just a good model that’s going to help people get back on their feet.”
“We’re hoping it’s going to mean a lot of jobs,” Workman said. “We were, in the mid-90s, 100 (employees) plus. And it kind of leveled off 60 to 75, depending on the season. With the Great Recession, we went to three. We’re hoping to build it back up to where we can earn a living again.”