GreenTech Automotive makes ambitious electric car announcement – raises questions about whether they can do it

Yesterday, GreenTech Automotive announced a new phase of the company’s electric car product line in which they’ll work with JAC Motors, a Chinese automaker, to start manufacturing a five passenger electric car.  The car will be based JAC’s award-winning Rejoice vehicle platform, and use as the electric drive train what they call “GTA’s advanced electric powertrain and battery management system.”  The announcement has some eerie parallels with Coda Automotive, and gives me some doubts about GTA’s long-run prospects.  Additionally there are some facts about the business which stink, but I don’t feel qualified to do anything other than raise questions.

Let me be clear – I want there to be more electric cars in the world, but the success of that project depends on successful automakers following high quality business plans, and delivering high quality products.  It doesn’t help the project of electric car adoption when there are weaknesses, because recent history has shown us several examples where the failure of weak companies in green technology have been exploited by political operatives to smear the whole field.  e.g. Solyndra.  In the electric car field there are Coda Automotive and Fisker Automotive as examples of companies with weaknesses, which appear to be about to die and are certainly in serious trouble.

I’ve written up the car over on examiner.com.  It is a car being provided by JAC Motors, I haven’t checked but almost certainly JAC sells it as a gasoline powered car in China.  The car has a 19 kilowatt-hour battery pack, which they claim will provide 100 miles range.  They don’t describe the drive train power which we’d need to know to gauge the car’s performance.  The 6-8 hour charging time implies they’ll install a 3.3 kilowatt charging unit.

I express my doubts about the range because for other electric cars 100 miles highway range by EPA testing requires more than 24 kilowatt-hours of battery packs.  The 19 kilowatt-hour battery pack should test out to a 60-70 mile highway range by the EPA tests.

They claim the car will be manufactured at GTA’s Horn Lake factory.  That factory was set up originally for manufacturing their Neighborhood Electric Car, the MyCar.  The press release also talks about manufacturing a pilot run of 2,000 cars, after which they’ll look for another manufacturing facility elsewhere in the U.S.

Reading between the lines, almost certainly the plan is for JAC Motors to ship engineless cars (a.k.a. gliders) to Horn Lake.  Maybe the gliders will be customized somewhat to suit installation of an electric drive train.  GTA will take care of installing the battery pack, electric motor, and other drive train equipment, at the Horn Lake facility.

I’ve seen this sort of business in operation previously.  Coda Automotive follows a similar pattern.  Their current car is a gasoline powered car made by Haifei Motor Co. which Coda receives as a glider, and installs an electric drive train at an assembly facility in Benicia California.  Coda has announced a plan to work with Great Wall, another Chinese automaker, to develop other electric cars presumably following a similar model.

In both cases the pattern is to import a car from China, add an electric drive train, and presto zingo you’ve got an electric car to sell.

If it works so well for, say, Apple to go to China to get iPads and iPhones built why not in the automobile industry?

The question we had with Coda was whether “the public” would trust a car made by a company they’ve never heard of.  Look at the car above, and other than the fancy paint job you see a typical family sedan.  Someone shopping for a typical family sedan, that’s electric, will gravitate immediately to the Nissan Leaf, or Ford Focus Electric, or Honda Fit EV.  How would they learn about GTA’s electric car?  Would they have the same level of trust for GTA, a company they’ve never heard of, that they have for Nissan, Ford or Honda?  What kind of dealer network will GTA be able to set up?  If they try to sell cars directly to the public rather than through dealers, they will run into the same legal quagmire Tesla is facing.  The US automotive laws require cars to be sold through independent dealers.

I like the people I’ve met who work(ed) for Coda, and I liked Coda’s electric car.  But at the same time I’ve asked those same questions about Coda.  I have met a few Coda owners, and they do like the car.  Their reasoning for buying the Coda was because of its features – big trunk – big battery pack – faster charger – that made it technically a better car than the Nissan Leaf.  The specs we know for GTA’s attempt don’t even match the Nissan Leaf.

All this makes me reluctantly have to express doubt over GreenTech Automotive’s prospects.

There are some other things about the company which strike as stinky but which I don’t feel qualified to do anything more than raise questions.  I did put together a resource page about GreenTech listing everything I could find about the company.  These issues were – the political opportunism of the management – and the screwball method of raising investment capital from foreigners.

 

The company in mid-2012 positioned Terry McAuliffe as the visionary founder, but it was clear he wanted to use that company to establish some green business credentials that he could use for later political purposes.  McAuliffe has since resigned from GTA – apparently without announcing it until months later – so that he could run for Governor in Virginia.
The company uses a really screwball method of raising capital from investors.  The U.S. government has this EB-5 visa program under which someone can invest money in a U.S. company, and get permanent U.S. residency.

I want to close by saying I’d love for GreenTech Automotive to be successful, and to be selling a great electric car.  It simply seems unlikely that they will see success.  However, it’s difficult to predict the future.

 

About David Herron

David Herron is a writer and software engineer living in Silicon Valley. He primarily writes about electric vehicles, clean energy systems, climate change, peak oil and related issues. When not writing he indulges in software projects and is sometimes employed as a software engineer. David has written for sites like PlugInCars and TorqueNews, and worked for companies like Sun Microsystems and Yahoo.

About David Herron

David Herron is a writer and software engineer living in Silicon Valley. He primarily writes about electric vehicles, clean energy systems, climate change, peak oil and related issues. When not writing he indulges in software projects and is sometimes employed as a software engineer. David has written for sites like PlugInCars and TorqueNews, and worked for companies like Sun Microsystems and Yahoo.

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