Quantcast
Get breaking news alerts via email

Click here to manage your alerts
In this July 30, 2013 photograph, Perry Turner, 21, who lives across the road from the planned site for GreenTech Automotive's Tunica, Miss., assembly facility, said there was a lot of talk about the new car company years ago in the county of about 11,000 people south of Memphis, Tenn. But that talk has faded and Perry said there has been little activity at the site until recent months. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)
Car company’s big plans haven’t come to fruition
First Published Aug 12 2013 08:55 am • Last Updated Aug 12 2013 07:39 pm

TUNICA, Miss. • It seemed like a win for everyone involved when a startup car company, backed by political heavyweights, wooed investors with plans to build a massive auto plant in the Mississippi Delta, hire thousands of people and pump out a brand new line of fuel-efficient vehicles.

GreenTech Automotive Inc. announced in 2009 production would start in three years and foreign investors who plunked down at least $500,000 for the venture would get the opportunity to live in the United States while an impoverished area of Mississippi would get desperately needed jobs and tax revenues.

Join the Discussion
Post a Comment

But today, the company is under a federal investigation and about the only thing on its land in Tunica County is a temporary construction office. The company says it will be producing cars by April, but its plans have changed drastically, from a goal of 250,000 a year to 30,000.

And the federal investigation is reverberating far beyond Mississippi, bringing scrutiny to a Virginia gubernatorial candidate and the company run by the brother of former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.

"Back in 2009, it was a big deal," said 21-year-old casino employee Perry Turner, who lives across the highway from GreenTech’s mostly empty site in rural Tunica County. "I haven’t heard much else about it."

Some analysts say it was a risky business plan and foreign investors may have been more interested in an easy way to get a visa than trying to support a venture that had a good chance to turn a profit or create jobs.

In October 2009, GreenTech’s owner, Chinese businessman Xiaolin "Charles" Wang, unveiled four prototype cars during a flashy ceremony and promised to build a $2 billon plant in the heart of the Mississippi Delta.

Besides backing from foreign investors, some 100 acres were donated by Tunica County’s economic development foundation, at a cost of $1.8 million, and in 2011 the state gave a $3 million loan toward site preparation. For a time, the company’s chairman was politically connected heavyweight Terry McAuliffe, a close adviser to both former President Bill Clinton and his wife, a former Democratic national chairman. McAuliffe is now a contender for Virginia governor.

The cars were supposed to start rolling off the assembly line in 2012. The company now hopes to start producing cars next year. And while they say they still plan to build a plant in Tunica County, all that was on the land on a recent afternoon was a construction trailer, a few pieces of equipment and a few workers strolling around.

The company instead now uses a former elevator factory 30 miles away in Horn Lake. A McAuliffe spokesman said about 100 small electric vehicles were built by the time McAuliffe resigned from the company in December 2012. But in an email Monday, Marianne McInerney, GreenTech’s vice president of sales and marketing, disputed that figure. She said the company does not release production numbers.


story continues below
story continues below

"It takes time to build a brand new company in a capital-intensive industry like electric vehicles, and we will not cut corners on quality or safety as we progress. We have a plan. The plan is working. We’re sticking to it," GreenTech said in a statement.

The company said it has more than 100 workers and "once production is ramped up" should employ at least 350 — the same number of jobs required under the state loan agreement.

Jeff Rent, a spokesman for the Mississippi Development Authority, said the company has assured the agency they’re on track to meet hiring goals.

Industry analysts say the company faces hurdles to succeed.

"A brand-new electric car company without an established U.S. partner, or global partner, is a lofty goal," said Joe McCabe, president of AutomotiveCompass, which forecasts global vehicle and power train production. "They’re one of several other electric manufacturing startups entering a tough market. They have to come with something better to the game, not just an also-ran."

Other analysts say GreenTech exposes problems with a program used to attract foreign investors — known as the EB-5 visa program.

David North, a fellow with the Center for Immigration Studies, a nonprofit based in Washington, D.C., that examines immigration policies, said the foreign investors in the EB-5 program are primarily motivated by a desire to get green cards for them and their families, not to find lucrative propositions.

"So this EB-5 program by its very nature is often linked to second- and third-class investments," he said.

Under the EB-5 visa program, foreigners can invest $500,000 or $1 million in American business ventures depending on the location of the project. In GreenTech’s case, the program called for $500,000 investments.

The EB-5 program is capped at 10,000 investors a year, and had 6,106 applicants in 2012.

Under the rules of the program, each EB-5 investment must create at least 10 jobs. In exchange, the foreign investors and their families get to stay in the United States for up to two years and can then apply for permanent legal residency, allowing them to permanently live and work in the country.

Next Page >


Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Top Reader Comments Read All Comments Post a Comment
Click here to read all comments   Click here to post a comment


About Reader Comments


Reader comments on sltrib.com are the opinions of the writer, not The Salt Lake Tribune. We will delete comments containing obscenities, personal attacks and inappropriate or offensive remarks. Flagrant or repeat violators will be banned. If you see an objectionable comment, please alert us by clicking the arrow on the upper right side of the comment and selecting "Flag comment as inappropriate". If you've recently registered with Disqus or aren't seeing your comments immediately, you may need to verify your email address. To do so, visit disqus.com/account.
See more about comments here.
Staying Connected
Videos
Jobs
Contests and Promotions
  • Search Obituaries
  • Place an Obituary

  • Search Cars
  • Search Homes
  • Search Jobs
  • Search Marketplace
  • Search Legal Notices

  • Other Services
  • Advertise With Us
  • Subscribe to the Newspaper
  • Login to the Electronic Edition
  • Frequently Asked Questions
  • Contact a newsroom staff member
  • Access the Trib Archives
  • Privacy Policy
  • Missing your paper? Need to place your paper on vacation hold? For this and any other subscription related needs, click here or call 801.204.6100.