This story just keeps gets stranger. In 2011, Terry McAuliffe, the former national Democratic Party chairman (now running for the governorship in Virginia), announced that his company, GreenTech, would build a China-sourced electric vehicle, the tiny low-speed MyCar, in Mississippi of all places. He got generous tax breaks and a $5 million state loan through the good offices of Haley Barbour, who was governor of the state until early 2012 — and on the other end of the spectrum politically. Bill Clinton came to the car’s launch last year, as did Barbour.
It made for a heartwarming story — political opposites doing business together. I talked to Barbour back then, and he told me, "Governors get elected to solve problems and get the job done. [GreenTech] is a company we're proud to have here." Barbour also said that he wasn't giving up on manufacturing in Mississippi, and he pointed to plants that make solar panels, biofuel from wood, and airplane parts. I asked him if he'd vote for McAuliffe. "I would want to know who the Republican is first," Barbour said.
I also talked to McAuliffe (at left), and he said the company was planning on at least 400 employees in Tunica, Miss., with 3,500 indirect jobs. (The company launched with a temporary facility in Horn Lake, Miss.) “We have 14 job openings right now,” he said. “These cars will be made by American workers.” The 300,000-square-foot plant was supposed to be pumping out cars in mid-2013, which is now, isn’t it?
The signs aren’t good. McAuliffe has now resigned from the company he founded, the Washington Post reported. The paper unearthed a resignation letter dated Dec. 1, 2012, though he was identified with the company after that date. Nobody seems to be saying exactly what happened, though McAuliffe released a statement saying that running for governor is “a full-time job.”
I haven’t seen too many MyCars on the road. None, actually. Maybe I just missed them. The grand design was to build a huge factory in Inner Mongolia to produce 300,000 cars for the Asian market, and then the Mississippi plant for the North American market. The car is a two-seater with limited utility — it’s officially a “neighborhood EV,” which means it can’t go on highways and is limited to 35 mph (or less, depending on state laws).
Last year, the parent company, GreenTech Automotive, said it expected to get orders from at least 20 Domino’s Pizza franchise owners, and food delivery would be a good use for cars that can’t go on the highway. “We’ve got to get 10,000 built over the next year,” McAuliffe told Bloomberg last summer. He has repeatedly played the Denmark card, saying he had orders for “thousands” from the Greenabout A/S company. It’s hard to tell what’s happening there — Greenabout’s website appears to be down.
The latest GreenTech news release, from last December, plays up the car’s appearance at a Qatar Sustainability Expo.
The MyCar fiasco has become an issue in the Virginia governor’s race. McAuliffe’s opponent, Republican opponent Ken Cuccinelli II, has raised the GreenTech issue a lot, but often in the context of wondering why the company isn’t located in Virginia. Meanwhile, there have been reports that GreenTech has been slow to pay business taxes, and some critics have charged that it’s really a scheme to allow wealthy foreigners to get visas for the U.S.
The little MyCar was supposed to launch McAuliffe’s bid for higher office with a cleantech gleam, but it sure isn’t playing out that way. For your entertainment pleasure, here's a video of Bill Clinton at the MyCar opening last year: