LOS ANGELES — California startup HAAH Automotive Holdings has quietly pursued a stake in struggling Korean automaker SsangYong Motor Co. while delaying its previously announced plans to acquire U.S. factory space to build vehicles with its Chinese partner Chery Automobile Co.
But HAAH's proposed investment in SsangYong appears to have stalled after the U.S. company failed to file a letter of intent, the Korean news agency Yonhap said last week. SsangYong's majority owner, India's Mahindra & Mahindra, has said it is unwinding its stake and won't invest more money in the automaker.
In a statement to Automotive News last week, HAAH was vague about its possible interest in SsangYong and whether that interest remains active. Korean media have reported that HAAH was poised to make an initial $250 million investment in SsangYong.
"HAAH continues to have discussions regarding several business opportunities in Asia. We cannot comment on those discussions at this time as they are still confidential," said HAAH spokesman Chris Hosford.
The drama unfolding in Korea over SsangYong and HAAH's role as its potential savior is the latest in a series of twists in HAAH's business plans since CEO and industry veteran Duke Hale started recruiting dealers for the venture several years ago.
In 2018, HAAH said it would be an American distributor for imported Chinese-made vehicles from various manufacturers, despite stiff U.S. tariffs on Chinese goods. In 2019, HAAH said it had signed up dealers in 100 U.S. markets to sell vehicles from China's Zotye Auto.
In early 2020, HAAH parted ways with Zotye and said it would instead build vehicles in the U.S. with Chery. Last September, Hale said his company was in the final stage of a search for existing factory space, to begin manufacturing its first vehicles by early 2022.
As of last week, HAAH had not announced a factory site.
But Hosford said last week that HAAH is moving forward with a near-premium Vantas brand, along with a second, more economical T-GO brand — both of them based on Chery vehicle brands in China. He said the company would have more to say on its plans soon.
"HAAH is reviewing production and on-sale dates for the Vantas VX," Hosford told Automotive News, referring to HAAH's first vehicle planned for the U.S.