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 Southern Auto Corridor News

August 27, 2009

V-Vehicle Meets Equity Goal for Prospective Louisiana Plant

V-Vehicle Co. (VVC) has met the second obligation of its contract with the State of Louisiana that allows the company to access another portion of the $67 million committed by the state as part of its incentive package, said Louisiana Economic Development Secretary Stephen Moret in late August. The company, which plans to begin assembling a new mystery car in the former Guide Corp. plant near Monroe, La. by the end of 2010, has provided confirmation to the state that it has raised more than $50 million in equity. Moret said that the threshold entitles the company $10 million in state money, as well as office space in the state-owned former State Farm Operations Center. It also triggers a deal for the state to begin a Louisiana Fast Start program for VVC. Fast Start is a program designed to deliver a turnkey work force to the company. Moret said that "only a handful" of U.S. venture capital projects this year have matched V-Vehicle's level of capital raised, pointing to seven such projects reported by PricewaterhouseCoopers' National Venture Capital Association MoneyTree Report. VVC chief executive Frank Varasano said he hoped the startup automaker would raise about $100 million by the fall quarter.

Nissan Unveils Zero Emission Hatchback to be Built in Tennessee

In what is a preview of the electric vehicle Nissan will assemble at its plant in Tennessee, Nissan Motor Co. CEO Carlos Ghosn unveiled the first commercial model of the Japanese automaker's new zero emissions car. The Nissan Leaf was shown to a crowd at a ceremony in early August in Yokohama, Japan. Earlier in the summer quarter, Nissan was granted a $1.6 billion loan from the U.S. Department of Energy and the automaker is using the money to make improvements at its plant in Smyrna, Tenn. in order to create capacity of up to 200,000 electric vehicles annually for the U.S. market by 2013.

Toyota Engine Plants in the South Adding Production, Employees

Toyota officials announced in late August that four-cylinder engine production is being added to the Japanese automaker's Huntsville, Ala. plant. The $147 million expansion will allow Toyota Motor Manufacturing Alabama to produce 216,000 four-cylinder engines annually once production begins next summer. The Alabama facility currently makes both V8 and V6 engines. The expansion in Alabama will result in 240 new employees, bringing that plant's total employment to over 1,000. Toyota will continue to build four-cylinder engines at its Kentucky plant and Toyota's Bodine Aluminum castings facility in Jackson, Tenn. that manufactures cylinder heads will increase capacity in response to the new four-cylinder production. Also, Toyota Motor Manufacturing West Virginia in Buffalo will begin producing engines for the Highlander mid-size SUV beginning late this year. Currently, the Buffalo plant makes four and six-cylinder engines for Toyota and Lexus.

VW Activating FTZ Status, May Build Other Models in Chattanooga

In a request this summer to activate Volkswagen's plant site in Chattanooga as a foreign trade zone, VW officials estimated that about 20 percent of the vehicles that will be assembled at the facility will eventually be exported. April Wortham, VW's community relations director, said that the 20 percent figure is just a starting point and that it was part of the application with the FTZ Board. The two other German automakers operating assembly plants in the Southern Automotive Corridor -- BMW in South Carolina and Mercedes-Benz in Alabama -- export vehicles worldwide from those plants. As part of the FTZ filing process, VW was required to identify the type of product it intends to produce. VW used the category of "light-duty vehicles," which would include the mid-sized sedan slated to be built, but also could include other models. Stefan Jacoby, VW's of America's CEO, said recently that the automaker is investigating a second product to be assembled in Chattanooga. The plant is expected to open in 2011.

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