A company that will turn out electric vehicles from a Moreno Valley, Calif., factory could ultimately employ as many as 2,000 people if the firm’s products prove as popular as its executives hope.
For now, the venture with South Korean-based CT&T United will hire about 120 workers. The battery-powered vehicles, which are not legal for freeways and can’t go as fast as the speed limits on most major surface streets, will roll off the assembly line by the first part of next year.
CT&T signed a deal Thursday (Sept. 10) to make the electric cars with Moreno Valley-based recreational vehicle company MVP RV. One of two factories MVP owns near March Air Reserve Base will be converted to make electric vehicles by a new company called MVP-EV, according to the Riverside Press-Enterprise.
MVP will continue to manufacture recreational vehicles in the second factory, said Pablo Carmona, vice president of manufacturing for MVP-EV.
The first electric cars are expected to roll out of the new factory in January following several months of refurbishing, Carmona said. It will be the Korean carmaker’s only manufacturing center on the West Coast, as well as its regional sales and service hub.
If the demand is strong enough, the plant could turn out 10,000 vehicles a year by 2011, he said.
Carmona, who started out at this factory on the assembly line in 1996 when it made RVs for Thor of California and worked his way to a management position, said MVP officials expect to start looking for workers in about a month. Some could be people who formerly built RVs at one of several Inland companies that have closed, such as Fleetwood Enterprises Inc., National RV Holdings Inc. and Weekend Warrior Inc., he said.
“People that used to make RVs would be comfortable making these cars,” Carmona said.
CT&T has been making electric vehicles in South Korea and China since it was founded in 2002. The company announced plans to open operations in the United States about two months ago.
Two models, the c-Zone, which resembles a golf cart with a fifth seat in the rear, and the e-Zone, which is reminiscent of the French-built Smart Car, were on display for the signing ceremony at the Riverside Convention Center. It was part of an event called the Riverside County Day of Transformation, which brought leaders together to discuss ways to generate jobs and revitalize the economy.
One of those strategies involves jobs based on renewable energy concepts, and in that regard MVP-EV fits. While it currently costs as much as $60 to fill the tank of a sport utility vehicle, maintenance costs for these models run between $5 and $10 a month.
The vehicles are priced between $7,000 and $17,000, and CT&T has more models on the drawing board, including a battery-powered bus, said Brad Williams, CEO of MVP-EV.
But the top speed for the models displayed Thursday is only about 35 mph. People with errands in their neighborhoods and senior citizens are among the likely marketing targets, and the company calls the cars “neighborhood electrical vehicles.”
The cost and the size of the models are drawbacks for consumers, said Mike Caudill, who writes for NADAGuides.com, a publication of the National Automobile Dealers Association.
“I don’t think the demand is going to be as high as this company hopes it will be,” he said of MVP-EV.
“People don’t have that discretionary income to buy a vehicle to take down to the grocery store,” Caudill said
Caudill also is president of Driven Communications in Temecula which represents an electric motorcycle manufacturer and a Singapore firm that is developing a system to convert standard cars into electric ones. He said price will ultimately determine the popularity of a car that may not exceed speeds of 35 mph.
David Stewart, dean of A. Gary Anderson Graduate School of Management at the University of California’s Riverside campus, said there’s risk with every startup, but MVP-EV will be marketed all over the West and has minimal competition.
“It won’t replace the internal combustion automobile, but for someone who is retired or for a stay-at-home spouse it could be a good alternative,” Stewart said. “Also, we’re at a stage where we’re receptive to alternative-energy cars.”
The cars could also be popular with government agencies, including police departments and code enforcement personnel, Williams said.
Tom Freeman, spokesman for the Riverside County Economic Development Agency, said a delegation from CT&T, including its founder, Young Gi Lee, visited Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in March seeking sites for its factory. State, county and city officials helped the company zero in on Moreno Valley.
“This is one of those leads that happened in quick-time,” Freeman said. “In economic development, that doesn’t happen very often.”
Riverside County’s unemployment rate of 14.7% in July is one of the highest of any urbanized counties in the state, and areas such as Moreno Valley and Perris, hit hard by foreclosures, have struggled more than most. That is why the news pleased officials from Moreno Valley. Bonnie Flickinger, mayor pro-tem, vowed to purchase the first vehicle that comes off the MVP-EV line.