Cleveland, Ohio – A defunct electric vehicle (EV) plant in one of the poorest parts of Mississippi is getting a second life from Mullen Technologies, a company bringing Chinese EV designs to the United States.
Mullen Chairman and CEO David Michery said his company has signed an agreement to buy the Tunica, Mississippi, plant briefly operated by GreenTech Automotive, a startup that had planned to sell two-seat EVs in the U.S. Now to be called Mullen’s Advanced Manufacturing Engineering Center (AMEC) and Proving Grounds, the plant will employ more than 50 by the end of the year and more than 200 within three years.
“Our goal is to sustain 100% of our manufacturing processes in the U.S. and by U.S. workers,” Michery said. “With the establishment of AMEC in Tunica, we are among the very few EV companies that have a manufacturing presence in the U.S. Tunica will allow us to perfect the engineering and manufacturing processes involved in building our EVs, while affording us the ability to assemble vehicles now. This facility is ideal for Mullen’s upcoming initiatives and will be pivotal in allowing us to get to the production of our vehicles in less than typical time.”
About an hour south of Memphis, Tennessee, in the heart of the Mississippi Delta, Tunica was once the most economically depressed area in the country. In 1985, Jesse Jackson toured the area, calling it America’s Ethiopia. Much of the attention came from a part of town known as Sugar Ditch, named for the open sewer that carried human waste through a residential neighborhood.
Casino gambling in the late 1990s cured some of Tunica’s problems, bringing in tourists from Memphis and parts of Louisiana and Arkansas. And, Mississippi’s government offered tax incentives to several companies to build manufacturing operations there.
In 2009, Terry McAuliffe, who later became the Democratic governor of Virginia, founded GreenTech Automotive with plans of making tiny, two-seat EVs. He raised $141.5 million, mainly from investors in China, using the EB-5 visa program that allows immigrant investors to stay in the U.S. permanently. One of his fundraising partners with Anthony Rodham, brother of former first lady and Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton. Clinton and McAuliffe have long been political allies.
GreenTech had a ribbon cutting for the Mississippi plant in 2012 with plans of hiring 350 people. State officials offered incentives and later sued GreenTech for those funds as employment never reached 150 people. McAuliffe blamed some of the company’s early problems in conservative media sites, going as far as suing Watchdog.org for accusing GreenTech of fraud. That case was dismissed in 2014.
The automaker filed for bankruptcy protection in 2018, facing lawsuits from Mississippi, disgruntled Chinese investors, and other parties.
For the past three years, the facility has been empty, but Mullen officials say it’s perfect for their needs, calling it a turnkey opportunity. The automaker plans to begin production there by Q3. The company plans to ship its first MX-05 EV SUVs to customers by mid-2022.
Mullen has a tech center and a pilot plant in Monrovia, California, capable of making 1,000 MX-05 models per year. The company didn’t share its capacity plans for the Mississippi plant, but it will likely be significantly higher.
About the author: Robert Schoenberger is the editor of Today's Motor Vehicles and Today's eMobility and a contributor to Today's Medical Developments and Aerospace Manufacturing and Design. He has written about the automotive industry for more than 19 years at The Plain Dealer in Cleveland, Ohio; The Courier-Journal in Louisville, Kentucky; and The Clarion-Ledger in Jackson, Mississippi.