If you’ve been looking in the “Missing Project’s” folder for GreenTech Automotive’s Tunica plant, you need search no more.
After two years of delays and a federal investigation into enticements used to gain foreign investors for the plant, the McLean, Va.-based GreenTech erected steel support structures for the facility Wednesday and invited the Mississippi media to Tunica to witness the event .
The maker of what it describes as environmentally friendly, energy-efficient vehicles says the plant’s entire exterior structure, including walls and roof, should be completed by the middle of March, allowing for the company to begin moving its production capability into the building.
GreenTech Automotive. or GTA, operates a pilot manufacturing facility in a converted elevator factory in nearby Horn Lake where it is said to be producing the MyCar, an electric vehicle that is a cross between a golf cart-sized vehicle and a conventional automobile. The MyCars are slow-moving neighborhood vehicles that are prohibited on U.S. Highways, according to the Associated Press.
Since the 2009 groundbreaking, GreenTech has changed its business plan. Instead of producing versions of the four prototypes it showcased then, including hybrid cars, it now says its plant, when built, will have the capacity to make 30,000 electric vehicles each year, including a sedan and the small electric MyCars. It now aims to have the first ones rolling off the line in Tunica by April, the AP reported last summer.
GTA has never confirmed the 30,000 figure reported by the AP, insisting it does not reveal production numbers. AP based its 30,000 projection on GTA’s statement that it has international distribution agreements for 30,000 vehicles over the next three years. AP noted the company originally planned 250,000 vehicles.
As 2014 approached, GTA heralded an agreement that extends its partnership with Chinese automaker Jianghui Automotive Co. Ltd. to develop and make a 4-door, all-electric vehicle for the North American market.
GreenTech has been in partnership with Jianghui to develop and produce environmentally sustainable, energy-efficient vehicles. Under the extended agreement, both companies will contribute their respective strengths based on their technology platforms, marketing and distribution channels, GreenTech says.
The U.S. start-up and its Chinese partner have both done extensive research and development in electric powertrains and battery management systems –—two critical aspects of building the new all-electric auto they plan.
Getting to this point has required backing from foreign investors and the donation of some 100 acres by Tunica County’s economic development foundation, at a cost of $1.8 million. In 2011, the state gave a $3 million loan toward site preparation.
The company says it has more than 100 workers and “once production is ramped up” should employ at least 350 — the same number of jobs required under the state loan agreement, the AP reports.
For a time, the company’s chairman was Democratic Party heavyweight fund-raiser Terry McAuliffe. He stepped down in December 2012 to make a successful run for governor of Virginia. In May 2013, the Securities & Exchange Commission began a yet-to-be-completed investigation of GTA’s foreign investments through the EB-5 visa program.
Analysts say GreenTech exposes problems with a program used to attract foreign investors — known as the EB-5 visa program, which provides investors and their families green cards in exchange for private-sector investments of $500,000 to $1 million, depending on the location of the project invested in.
In GreenTech’s case, the program called for $500,000 investments.
The EB-5 program is capped at 10,000 investors a year, and had 6,106 applicants in 2012.
GreenTech says more than 100 investors have been approved for U.S. citizenship and have been granted permanent residency in recent months. In late August, only one of more than 90 investors had received residency status, according to the Associated Press, which cited an internal immigration services document.
Simone Williams of GreenTech told AP in August the government’s pace in approving foreign investors had slowed down plans to start construction at its Tunica County facility.