Green Tech Automotive?

By Bill Moore

Posted: 07 Oct 2009

Sometimes my radar just doesn't work all that well. Some stories show up as a big, brightly glowing 747-sized blip and others... well... it's like they're transponder-less sparrows. They're there, barely, and they tend to get lost in the ground clutter.

Such is the case of Green Tech Automotive (GTA), which just broke ground yesterday in northern Mississippi, in Tunica County for a multi-billion dollar car plant that will, "in the next few years" turn out an electric car -- pictured above -- two hybrid models and a compact, fuel-efficient gasoline model using the same chassis as the EV.

Up to this point, about the only thing I've heard about the company was the feud between two of the founders, Charles Wang and Benjamin Yeung, who eventually went their separate ways, the latter planning, apparently, to set up his own hybrid car plant in Alabama.

Obviously, the feud was so intense that neither of these gentlemen appear to have had the energy to begin building "buzz" for their venture... now ventures. While we were all focused on Tesla's feud with Fisker and monster bankruptcies at Chrysler and GM, these guys were raising capital and nurturing networks in economically depressed Mississippi.

The plant that Wang and local dignitaries broke ground on is phase one of a two-phase project that reportedly will cost $6.5 billion dollars. Simultaneously, Wang revealed to the press four models: a battery electric, the high efficiency subcompact, a mid-sized hybrid and a hybrid sports car with 0-to-60 in 5.9 seconds, asserts Mr. Wang. The above electric car is said to have a range of 80 miles and 3 hour recharge time. The four-door subcompact will get -- based on GTA's internal lab tests, -- 65 mpg. The mid-sized hybrid is estimated at 50 mph, comparable to the Prius, and similar in size to the Camry. The hybrid sports car will get an estimated 45 mpg.

While all this is very exciting, especially for the folks in Mississippi who are looking forward to the thousands of jobs the plant promises, I see two serious obstacles they will have to confront and resolve: funding and market share. Near as I can tell, GTA wasn't on the DOE's list of stimulus fund recipients, so they are going to have to look to the private sector for the funds they need to build the plant, firm up supplier networks, and most importantly, start letting people know who the heck they are and what they offer.

At the moment, apart from four prototypes, a piece of plowed up ground and a nasty private feud, we know zip about these guys. Maybe that's deliberate -- there are several other electric car ventures I know of also operating in F-117 stealth mode -- but now that they've broken ground, opened their kimono (a phrase used by a GM executive back in 1997 to describe the Prius), and promised 5,000 good paying jobs, it's time Mr. Wang and company hired a good PR firm and started attending car shows and battery conferences.

I put in a request this morning to interview a spokesperson from GTA and the email bounced. Not a good start.

I hope these guys succeed, but it will ultimately be at the expense of other carmakers. The US car market is largely stagnant, the real growth is in India and China, from whence Mr. Wang and Mr. Yeung originated. If they can turn out superior product and lower costs, then they will gradually squeeze out a niche for themselves, but the reality is, turning a spade of dirt and showing a few prototypes isn't a guarantee of future success. It is, to paraphrase the Chinese proverb, the first step in a journey of 10,000 miles.

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