Despite groundbreaking for billion dollar Tunica car plant, GreenTech officials are MIA
In the roughly eight months since Chinese businessman Charles Wang popped up in Tunica County and claimed he wanted to build a hybrid vehicle manufacturing facility there, not much has happened, and even less has been heard.
State economic development officials all say they’re waiting on GreenTech Automotive, Wang’s company, to raise capital. Until then, they agree, there’s not much to talk about.
Wang himself hasn’t been heard from since the initial announcement.
But there were signs of life May 21 when GreenTech, in a press release from chairman Terry McAuliffe, said it had acquired EuAuto, a Hong-Kong based company that designs, builds and distributes neighborhood electric vehicles (NEVs).
The announcement came during World Trade Week as U.S. Commerce Secretary Gary Locke held a clean energy trade mission in Hong Kong.
“GTA stands with the Obama administration in reaffirming a commitment to economic recovery and growth,” McAuliffe said in the release. “We will continue to expand green collar job creation, which is central to our mission to build energy efficient, affordable automobiles in the US.” McAuliffe said the acquisition would bring 300 jobs to the U.S., but did not say where those jobs would be.
Locke praised the move in a statement.
“Transactions such as this one are truly win-win: they bolster the U.S. economy and speed our economic recovery; they support high-quality, high-wage green jobs in the United States; they help rebuild our manufacturing sector; and, by leading to lower carbon emissions, they contribute to our ability to deal with climate change.”
When or if the NEVs — or anything else — ever get built in Mississippi is still as murky as the oil slick floating around the Gulf of Mexico.
During Wang’s visit to Tunica last fall, he said his $1 billion manufacturing facility would produce a couple hundred thousand hybrid vehicles per year. He offered no timetable for when construction would start, and offered no specifics on financing, other than to say that a portion of the cost would come from the EB-5 Visa program, which offers foreign investors who invest a minimum of $500,000 in economic development projects in the U.S. temporary residency status.
A spokesperson for McAuliffe said he was traveling last week and unavailable for comment beyond the statement he issued.
As for the NEVs themselves, they serve many of the same functions of a golf cart but are equipped with a few more amenities. Some have enclosed cabs with heating and air conditioning. They are popular in golf course communities.
“They are stronger and have a few more ticks and tacks to them than a golf cart,” said John O’Dell, senior editor at Edmunds’ greencaradvisor.com. “But many of them look like fancy golf carts. Some look like little cars. Some are in between there.
“They were originally designed to be used in close-campus environments, like parks and universities and schools, apartment complexes. They’re quiet, they don’t emit and they’re cheap to run. They do well in Florida, for instance.”
While the motivation GreenTech stated for jumping into the NEV business was “green collar” job creation, O’Dell believes there is a possibility the company may have used it as a tool to recruit new EB-5 investors or placate those who have already invested and have grown weary of the company’s lack of activity.
“I think they’re interested in that because they’re not getting anywhere with (raising capital for the facility in Tunica),” he said. “I have a feeling that may be it. There’s a lot of criticism of those guys and their former partners as being basically immigration scams. At some point they have to produce something, or else. I would posit, although I do not know for sure, that probably is the most likely scenario. They need something to produce (to retain their immigration status and continue to recruit EB-5 investors) and that they’re not moving much on their full-size vehicle they want to build in Mississippi. Or at least not moving as fast as they had hoped.”
That said, O’Dell did not dismiss the potential market for NEVs. A versatile vehicle with a low cost of ownership will always have a puncher’s chance, he said.
“They can make NEVs and sell them into the states that have the zero-emissions standards and get (tax) credits for them. Or they can sell the credits. There’s some business opportunity potential there. Baby Boomers are getting older, and as you get older, many people tend to get less mobile and less desirous of having a huge car, especially if you’re living on a fixed income. That age group is going to be a big chunk of America for a while.”
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