Alabama Has Hopes For Hybrid Autos Plant, But Foundation Seems Shaky

By John O'Dell September 28, 2009

hkmotors.jpgHybrid Kinetics Motors, a start-up that wants to build hybrid cars in the U.S., has announced its intent to build a new green-car manufacturing plant in Alabama for assembly of bi-fuel hybrids that can use either gasoline or compressed natural gas in their internal combustion engines.

Photographer for newspaper Website caught this image of Yung Yeung showing off rendering of proposed Hybrid Kinetics Motors plant at Alabama press conference last week.

The company, which has a Pasadena, Calif, address, was formed several years ago by the former chairman of China's Brilliance Automotive, Yung "Benjamin" Yeung (also known as Yang Rong) who fled his native China in 2002 after being charged with unspecified "economic crimes."

In its Alabama announcement, HKM says it could build as many as 300,000 vehicles a year - a goal, we think, that's based on equal parts hope and hype. 

Among other things, HKM claims its car will have a 1.5-liter engine and an electric motor that combined will pump out as much as 400 horsepower and deliver at least 45 miles per gallon fuel economy.

We don't see any way - including giving them away- that an unproven manufacturer could unload 300,000 cars a year - hybrid or not - in North America; nor do we see much hope of a 1.5 liter gas or CNG engine tied to a reasonably sized electric motor putting out anything near 400 ponies.

Besides the questionable claims, the company's plan, announced with fanfare in Birmingham late last week at a press conference attended by state officials including by Alabama Gov. Bob Riley, comes with a big "IF."

The whole deal is dependent on the Chinese company securing financing and a bundle of state incentives.

Alabama is no stranger to using state tax credits and other incentives to lure foreign automakers - Mercedes Benz, Honda Motor Co. and Hyundai Motors each has a major plant in the state, but all were established companies with proven track records when they asked the state to bid for their businesses.

Pouring millions of state funds into an untried automaker headed by an entrepreneur with a question mark hanging over his head (he says he's done nothing wrong, that the charges against him in China are politically motivated) is something that's ought to require a heck of a lot of due diligence on the part of state officials.

Yueng was last heard from earlier this year when a similar venture he'd planned for Mississippi fell through in an acrimonious feud with his partner, Xiaolin  "Charles" Wang. It was later settled with each man going his own way - Wang with a company called GreenTech Automotive, based in Mississippi, Yeung looking to Alabama to make his dream come true.

No matter how hungry they are for job-creating businesses, Alabama's government and economic development officials best make sure they really would be getting a business, not a runaround.

John O'Dell, Senior Editor

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