//Georgia sports car maker expresses optimism

Georgia sports car maker expresses optimism

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Walter C. Jones, Morris News Service for Valdosta Today

MNS0911-n--GA-CarBuilderATLANTA — Georgia may be the site of Kia Motors’ assembly plant and the North American sales office for Porsche, but the one homegrown carmaker is Panoz LLC, and its founder sees open roads ahead.

Don Panoz located his car company in Hoschton, Ga., on the site of the Road Atlanta racetrack he developed and near the Chateau Elan winery resort and residential development he owns. He said 200 cars is his annual limit but that his 70-person workforce is up to the job because of the other automotive talent in the area.

“Around Road Atlanta there is a lot of automotive interest,” he said, listing various race teams and specialized garages.

The 2015 Esperante Spyder model commemorates Panoz’ 25th year making custom-ordered sports cars. It incorporates innovations he tested on race course, such as lightweight, aluminum body panels, extruded aluminum chassis and carbon-fiber superstructure.

Other car companies are starting to use some of these methods to extend mileage to meet new, tough federal fleet-mileage standards, but Panoz notes that his company has been employing them since 1990.

Another of his designs is even more novel and stingier on gas at 70 miles per gallon, the DeltaWing. The 105 horsepower four-cylinder is beating many traditional race cars with twice the horsepower — and less than half the mileage.

While he’s developed plans for making a passenger version for consumers, the 80-year-old inventor won’t be building it. Instead he is seeking bids from conventional car makers.

“We’ll license it and probably wait to see what incentives people will offer us to want to copy it. It will be a choice,” he said.

He was speaking to the Irish crowd because it was in Ireland where he began making his nicotine patches. Regulatory approval took about three months there compared to two years in the United States.

But in 1980 when he was looking for a place to build a U.S. plant, he had decided on North Carolina until he was invited to participate in Georgia’s annual Red Carpet Tour that brings executives to factory sites, the Governor’s Mansion and the Masters Tournament.

“I wasn’t interested in coming because I had decided on somewhere else,” he said. “And they told me the trip included going to the Masters, so I said OK.”

Once on the tour, state and local officials were so welcoming that he was won over.

While he doesn’t anticipate adding significantly to his automobile workforce, he does expect to sell nearly 1,000 home sites in coming years in the Chateau Elan residential development. Plus, he’s coming out with some new wines this year.

“Run up and see us,” he said.