Will anyone notice another American-Chinese electric car?
Market and political forces could kill GreenTech Automotive before it builds one car in the U.S.
The popularity of hybrid and electric vehicles has drawn new blood to the auto industry in ways we haven’t seen in decades.
With that, there's yet another under-the-radar automaker you’ve likely never heard of before: the American-Chinese partnership known as GreenTech Automotive.
The company wants to import the JAC J3, a Chinese-built compact sedan made by a state-owned automaker, and install electric powertrains at a plant in Mississippi. GreenTech promises a range of more than 100 miles from its 19-kilowatt-hour battery. The company says it will begin a pilot program of 2,000 cars starting in late 2013.
GreenTech was established in 2009 as a partnership between American and Chinese businessmen who, after purchasing a Hong Kong-based electric vehicle manufacturer in 2010, had planned to build and sell a smaller electric model called MyCar.
The MyCar is labeled a “neighborhood electric vehicle,” which means it's not fast enough to be allowed on highways, with the most powerful battery option providing a 91-mile range.
But to date, the GreenTech story is a familiar tale of struggles. There is no dealer network, and despite claims that it will build 30,000 MyCar models over the next three years, GreenTech’s Mississippi manufacturing plant isn't scheduled to come online until the end of 2013, two years later than initially planned. Even GreenTech’s website still has the plant up and running sometime 2011.
California-based Coda Automotive, which is also selling a retrofitted electric Chinese sedan, is facing similar problems with sales. For Detroit Electric, another brand-new U.S. automaker trying to break into the market, its survival is now penned on China's Geely brand, which owns Volvo.
As with Fisker, which is now caught up in a congressional firestorm over its government-approved loans and pending bankruptcy, politics may be the biggest problem yet for GreenTech. Co-founder Terry McAuliffe is a big-time player in American politics. A former chairman of the Democratic National Committee, he was also the co-chairman of Bill Clinton’s 1996 presidential campaign and chairman of Hilary Clinton’s 2008 presidential campaign.
GreenTech Automotive was established after McAuliffe finished second in the 2009 Virginia Democratic gubernatorial primary, and now that he’s running for Virginia governor again this year, his record as a businessman has come into play — and that’s where GreenTech has seen just the kind of spotlight it didn’t want.
A number of media reports outline McAuliffe's business dealings, including alleged claims that GreenTech was a "fraud investment" and that his company had a scheme to give out U.S. visas in exchange for employment. GreenTech has since sued for libel and alleged that the stories jeopardized around $85 million in potential finance deals.
In addition, McAuliffe only revealed in April that he had resigned from his chairman position in December. Though he remains a shareholder, there is a growing controversy over his appearances and statements made between December and April, which some claim were misleading about his involvement with GreenTech. Indeed, while McAuliffe is no longer listed among GreenTech’s executives, he is quoted (typos and all) multiple times on the company’s site as its chairman.
While this may be a simple case of a company not updating its website, it certainly does itself no favors in light of the controversy. Political opponents are now using GreenTech to attack McAuliffe’s business record, which has been a tenet of his campaign.
Only time will tell the full story of GreenTech Automotive, but as things stand, it appears the company is facing another problem for new businesses in the modern era: the 24-hour news cycle.
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