In Horn Lake, Miss., GreenTech runs a temporary assembly plant in an old elevator factory. There, fewer than 100 workers are producing no more than one car every two or three days, according to current and former company employees.
What is happening in these spots in rural Mississippi has become an issue in the Virginia governor’s race.
McAuliffe, a Democrat who has never held elective office, tells voters that they should choose him because of his entrepreneurship and experience creating jobs. His Republican opponent, state Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli II, points to GreenTech and counters that McAuliffe has broken his promises on job creation.
After losing the 2009 Democratic primary for governor, McAuliffe set out to establish a “green” car company in Virginia, using political connections and his well-honed salesmanship skills to get the venture off the ground. In 2010, the former Democratic National Committee chairman spent $20 million to buy EuAuto Technology, a Hong Kong-based company that built the MyCar, and he was already scouting for possible locations — ideally with government incentives — to build a plant in the United States.
While Virginia officials were still scrutinizing GreenTech’s business model, the company received millions of dollars in incentives from Mississippi and began operations there. Questions about the company have dogged McAuliffe since his current gubernatorial campaign began.
McAuliffe and company officials defend GreenTech’s progress, saying all start-up companies struggle at first.
“I started my first business at 14,” McAuliffe said during a brief interview at a recent campaign event. “You have ups and downs in businesses. But I have been in the arena, trying innovative new concepts to create 21st-century jobs, and, generally, I think most people will tell you who start up small businesses, they generally take longer than you’d hope for. But that’s part of business.”
McAuliffe’s co-founder, Xiaolin “Charles” Wang, said in an interview that GreenTech should be judged over a longer period. “This is a small, tiny start-up,” Wang said. “It is hard to start a business. It is even harder to start a car business, especially in an economic crisis.”
But Cuccinelli seldom misses a chance to razz McAuliffe about GreenTech’s troubles.
Last month, on the one-year anniversary of the company’s celebratory product launch in Mississippi, Cuccinelli held a campaign event on a vacant industrial site in Virginia’s Southside, where GreenTech had hoped to build.