The current top American maker of such vehicles, the Global Electric Motorcars unit of Polaris Industries, focuses on selling to retirement communities and fleet users such as colleges, said Daniel Sperling, who directs the Institute for Transportation Studies at the University of California, Davis.
Though the company also plans a factory in China and is led by Chinese CEO Charles X. Wang, McAuliffe touted the importance of American manufacturing. He pledged, under a giant American flag at the sweltering ceremony, that GreenTech would make the innards of vehicles in the U.S. and export them to China for assembly.
“We can’t become a service economy,” McAuliffe said. “We’ve got to go back to making things.”
Sperling and other observers say they’re not sure small vehicles will have a wide market in the U.S, though there could be more demand abroad.
“The way we’ve designed our roads and cities makes it difficult for them to compete,” Sperling said, saying that could change if states and cities reserve lanes for small vehicles as they’ve done for bicycles.
McAuliffe acknowledged that the startup is a risky venture, but exuded confidence.
“When people hear our story, they’re going to want to buy the car,” he said.
McAuliffe said the company has raised hundreds of millions of dollars and has no debt. He said the firm has accepted no loans or grants from the federal government. The company has raised money in the past through the EB-5 visa program, which allows foreign investors to obtain residency in the United States in exchange for putting money into a business venture and creating jobs.
The plant is drastically smaller than a typical car plant, with only a few rows of shelves holding parts.
Aluminum frames and panels are stamped and painted off site. Instead of being welded, parts are joined with epoxy and bolts.
Plant Manager Suresh Nair said many suppliers were in the region, though lithium batteries are coming from Flux Power in California. GreenTech hasn’t said who’s making its powertrain.
The company started assembling a handful of vehicles in the past two weeks, and is in the process of adding employees as production increases. GreenTech said it employs 840 people today in all its locations, including Mississippi, its McLean, Va., headquarters and China.
GreenTech plans to build a permanent 300,000-square-foot facility on 100 acres in Tunica County that would allow it to make 16,000 cars a year.
Clinton, who participated in a launch for the company in Denmark in May, saluted the company’s emphasis on American manufacturing, technology and cooperation with China.
“We are going to share the future with China,” Clinton said. “What we’ve still got to decide every single day is what kind of future we’re going to share.”
GreenTech’s board is stocked with the politically connected, including former Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco, a Democrat, and former Clinton-era IRS Commissioner Margaret Richardson. Tony Rodham, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s brother, has been helping raise money.
Despite the Democratic links, former Republican Gov. Haley Barbour attended and sung GreenTech’s praises. McAuliffe and Barbour were once investors in a Washington restaurant, the Caucus Room.
“Creating jobs is not a partisan political issue,” McAuliffe said.
McAuliffe said GreenTech chose Mississippi because it offered the best incentives. The Mississippi Development Authority has said that the state hasn’t assisted the Horn Lake operation, but is “committed” to providing infrastructure aid, tax breaks and a loan to Tunica County government to buy land. The state hasn’t placed a value of that aid, and says details haven’t been finalized.<< previous 1 2