Hybrid Car Startup Unveils Prototypes

TUNICA, Miss. (AP) -- A startup car company run by a Chinese businessman unveiled four prototype vehicles on Tuesday that it hopes to build at a proposed multibillion-dollar car plant in northwestern Mississippi.

GreenTech Automotive Inc. planned to break ground later in the day on what officials said would be a $6.5 billion plant on 1,500 acres Tunica County, south of Memphis, Tenn. The company said it has an option to buy more land as needed.

State officials have met with the company's owner, Xiaolin "Charles" Wang, but they have not discussed whether the company will be receiving any incentives to start the project.

Wang said Tuesday that the plant hopes to eventually employ 4,500 people and produce up to 250,000 fuel-efficient cars a year.

Company attorney Bill Brabec had told The Associated Press on Monday that GreenTech eventually would build 1 million cars a year. Wang said Tuesday that figure was too high.

The company hopes to eventually build affordable cars matching lower emissions and fuel-consumption standards that President Barack Obama's administration wants automakers to meet by 2016.

"We're excited to be bringing the latest in automotive innovation to Americans made by Americans and we look forward to the very significant impact that our project will have on the local and regional economic landscape," Wang said in a company news release.

Dozens of people gathered for the unveiling of four vehicles, which were draped with red cloth before a ceremony at Harrah's casino in Tunica.

The prototypes were built in China. They included a midsize four-door hybrid designed to get 50 mpg, a zero-emissions electric car, a high-efficiency gasoline car designed to get 65 mpg and a hybrid sports coupe designed to get 45 miles to gallon and to go from 0 to 60 mph in less than 5.9 seconds.

Plans for the GreenTech project were first revealed in June, when a messy lawsuit between Wang and his former partner, Yung "Benjamin" Yeung, became public.

It's not immediately clear how much money has been raised to make the project happen. The plan before Yeung and Wang split was to raise money through a visa program that provides foreign investors with a chance to get a visa by investing in the United States.

Taylor Beery, president of Gulf Coast Automotive Fund, said Tuesday his group is authorized by the Department of Homeland Security to work with investors in the project through the EB-5 program, which offers foreign investors two-year green cards for themselves and their immediate families for $500,000 investments.

Once jobs are created and the investors meet program requirements, they can apply for permanent citizenship. He did not say how much money has been raised.

GreenTech was formerly known as Hybrid Kinetic Automotive Corp., but that changed after Wang and Yeung split. The men fought for control of the company before reaching a settlement in July. Both said they will move forward with plans to build 1 million cars a year, though Yeung is now planning to build a plant in Alabama.

Yeung and Wang fought over the terms of their "handshake" business deal and whether they were partners or whether Wang worked for Yeung, according to filings in U.S. District Court in northern Mississippi. Each man accused the other of dubious business practices.

The lawsuit was complicated, among other things, by the fact that the name of Yeung's company, Hybrid Kinetic Automotive Holdings, closely resembled one controlled by Wang, Hybrid Kinetic Automotive Corp. More than a dozen third parties joined in the lawsuit.

Yeung, also known as Yang Rong, was celebrated in China for leading Brilliance China Automotive Ltd. to become first Chinese company to be listed on the New York Stock Exchange in 1992. He later fled China after Chinese authorities accused him of unspecified economic crimes. He has denied any wrongdoing.

Court filings in the case said Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour had been involved in discussion about the plan but Barbour's office has declined to comment, citing the need for confidentiality in proposed economic development projects.

Wang said Tuesday that Mississippi Development Authority officials brought him to the Tunica site last July. Company representatives also met with the governor; Mississippi's two Republican U.S. senators, Roger Wicker and Thad Cochran; and Democratic U.S. Rep. Bennie Thompson, whose district includes Tunica County.

Former President Bill Clinton also has been active in the project, traveling to Hong Kong and introducing company representatives to heads of state at his recent global initiative, Wang said.

Because of confidentially requirements with MDA and others, the plan has been kept under wraps, Wang said.

Mississippi is home to one automobile manufacturing plant, and another is planned but is on hold.

Nissan opened its plant in 2003 near the central Mississippi city of Canton. Toyota announced in early 2007 that it would open a plant near Tupelo, in northern Mississippi, by late 2009 or early 2010. Toyota's plans have been put on hold indefinitely amid the global economic slowdown.

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