A Chinese-affiliated electric vehicle venture that has generated more curiosity than cars during the past five years anticipates launching U.S. production by the end of this year.
GreenTech Automotive was started in 2009 by Democratic Party fund-raiser Terry McAuliffe, now the governor of Virginia, with a plan to build 1 million vehicles a year. Now, it more modestly proposes to turn out a few thousand low-speed “neighborhood” vehicles a year.
GreenTech released a statement today saying it has completed construction of its delayed assembly plant in Tunica, Miss., south of Memphis, Tenn.
The site has been granted an occupancy permit, and workers are transporting production equipment from what has been GreenTech’s temporary assembly site 30 miles away in Horn Lake, Miss.
A person familiar with GreenTech’s timetable said the venture expects to hold a grand opening for the plant in the fourth quarter when vehicle production begins.
Five years after the venture’s inception, its parent company WM Industries Corp. now has business ties to retired General Motors executive Bob Lutz, California performance-car tuner Steve Saleen and the Fisker luxury car venture.
GreenTech’s statement today says the plant will produce a two-seat “neighborhood electric vehicle” called the MyCar, with a battery range of about 65 miles.
Neighborhood vehicles are street-legal passenger cars that are limited by many state transportation regulators to roads with a speed limit of no more than 35 mph.
The brief statement does not provide details about the size or cost of the completed Tunica plant, or details about how or where the neighborhood vehicles will be marketed. A press representative referred additional questions to GreenTech CEO Charles Wang, a former Chinese auto industry executive, who was in China today and unavailable for an interview.
In 2009, the venture estimated the Mississippi plant would cost $1 billion and employ 2,500 workers to start. The company originally envisioned producing several models, with a large portion of them being exported to world markets.
Launching production in the next three months would cap off a complicated birth for the startup.
Since in 2009, GreenTech has been dogged by delays and political flak.
Complicating its story was McAuliffe’s and Wang’s plan to finance the venture through the controversial EB-5 U.S. immigration program. EB-5, as created by Congress in 1990, grants immigration visas to foreigners who invest at least $500,000 in a job-creating enterprise in regions targeted by the federal government for job growth.
GreenTech made its original fund-raising appeals to wealthy individuals in China with the promise of a U.S. visa in return.
The venture also became something of a political target when McAuliffe, who led campaign fundraising for Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton and Hillary Clinton, ran successfully for governor of Virginia in 2013. The Securities and Exchange Commission investigated the venture at the same time.
McAuliffe has stated that he ended his ties with the auto venture in late 2012.
In the past three years, GreenTech has evolved into a more complex company and is now a subsidiary of WM Industries.
Former GM executive Lutz is listed on the GreenTech website as chairman of WM, and Mustang-tuner Saleen is listed as vice chairman.
Lutz and partner Gilbert Villarreal unveiled a company in early 2013 that proposed to refit plug-in hybrid Fisker Karma vehicles with V-8 Chevrolet Corvette engines and market the car as the Destino.
Villarreal is listed on the GreenTech site as WM’s chief operating officer, and the Fisker-based Destino is listed as its model.
Fisker Automotive, itself a startup auto manufacturing venture that produced the high-end Tesla-competing Karma between 2011 and 2012, declared bankruptcy in November.
In February, Fisker’s assets were purchased at auction for $149 million by the Chinese automotive conglomerate Wanxiang Group.