HAZELWOOD, MO–(KMOX)–Like a rainmaker coming to a town that’s been in automotive drought, Emerald Automotive CEO Andy Tempest was flashing a winning smile, a shiny prototype van and some kind words for organized labor.
“If the workers want to come together and use the UAW, then we would fully support that,” Tempest said, “We want skilled labor and we recognize people who’ve got those skills in the automotive area are a valuable commodity.”
Showing off a prototype of his long-range electric fleet vehicle on the way to a car show, the British-born CEO watched as the silent-running, silver van slipped down the road near the defunct Ford Motor plant site — now a fields of weeds.
Designed to go 66 miles on a fully-charged battery, then shift to a combustion engine which powers the battery, the Emerald fleet van can go up 400 miles on a single tank of gas, a brochure claims. So far, Tempest says he has been talking to twenty of the largest fleet vehicle companies including British Telecom, AT&T and DHL.
Tempest aims to start production here sometime in the fourth quarter of 2014. His goal is to start making ten-thousand vehicles a year with an initial labor force of 550 workers. The 20-acre site being planned could accommodate a factory large enough to make fifty-thousand vehicles a year and employ two-thousand workers, Tempest said.
When reminded that the high cost of union salaries and benefits were blamed for Chrysler Plant in Fenton closing, Tempest says he’s not afraid of union costs, because his vehicle will sell for about $15,000 more than comparable combustion-only vehicles with “big savings” to operators over the long range.
“Someone said to me why don’t you go and make them in China and you can get guys for two-hundred dollar a month,” Tempest said, “The labor content in this is about two-thousand bucks at UAW rates. That’s what we’ve based all our business cases on. We understand that. But if we build them in China, it’s going to cost me about two-thousand bucks to ship them back here.”
The Emerald Automotive courtship with Hazelwood has endured some long waits. In May, the company announced it was withdrawing its request for grant money from the U.S. Department of Energy. Tempest said he didn’t want to wait another year for the federal funds, and believes he can get started with private investment.
“No one can ever guarantee that the funding is there until the ink is dry,”Tempest said, “I can say that I spend my whole time on the funding. That’s the key. I’ve been very successful to date. We are in due diligence with several of the funders at this moment in time. We’ve got more funding than actually we would need.”
Tempest declined to reveal any dollar amounts of funding still being sought.
Three Hazelwood sites are under consideration for the Emerald Automotive factory, and Tempest says he plans to announce the site selection in the next two or three months.