Some new U.S. automaking ventures are proposing smaller than normal manufacturing plants, but Hybrid Kinetic Motors Corp. is thinking big.
The venture proposes to invest $4.5 billion on a startup auto plant in Bay Minette, Ala., near Mobile, that by 2018 would produce as many as a million hybrid and natural-gas-powered vehicles a year.
That's three times as much as was spent on any of the largest auto plant projects of the past 20 years. And the highest-producing North American plant last year was Ford Motor Co.'s Kansas City, Mo., operation, which turned out 385,037 vehicles.
Yet Hybrid Kinetic's proposed megaproject has neither a U.S. dealer network nor a brand name behind it.
The company, with offices in Pasadena, Calif., was founded by Yang Rong, the former chairman of Brilliance China Automotive. He now goes by the name Benjamin Yeung.
Not surprisingly, some observers are skeptical. And no groundbreaking has taken place to move the colossal project into reality.
But in January, Hybrid Kinetic held a press conference in Alabama to reveal that it had committed to an eight-year multivehicle design agreement worth $538 million with the Italian styling studio Italdesign Giugiaro.
In June, a contingent of Alabama economic development officials traveled to China to talk with people related to the Hybrid Kinetic project, its Chinese supply base, investors and others around the Chinese auto industry. Robert Ingram, president of the Economic Development Alliance in Baldwin County, where the massive Hybrid Kinetic project is slated be located, came home impressed by what he saw and heard.
"It is unusual," Ingram acknowledges about the proposal. "Nothing like this has ever been attempted before. But the people with this project continue to do all the right things."