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Canadian vehicle maker has SC on short list for new assembly plant

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Electra Meccanica

Canada's Electra Meccanica is considering South Carolina for its first U.S. assembly plant to build a three-wheeled, one-passenger electric vehicle called the Solo. Electra Meccanica/Provided

South Carolina has joined a field of seven states racing to take home a Canadian vehicle manufacturer's first U.S. assembly facility.

In a filing this week with the Securities and Exchange Commission, Electra Meccanica Vehicles Corp. of Vancouver, British Columbia, said South Carolina is among finalists chosen by a site selection firm. It also said the Palmetto State has responded to a request for proposals.

The other states in the running are: Arizona, Colorado, Florida, North Carolina, Tennessee and Texas. The carmaker said it plans to announce the leading location and backup sites by the fourth quarter of this year.

The plant would finish building partially completed vehicles sent to the U.S. from Electra Meccanica's manufacturing partner, motorcycle maker Zongshen Industrial Group in Chongqing, China. 

It would employ up to 200 workers assembling the company's flagship vehicle — a single-seat, three-wheeled electric car called Solo. The vehicle, with a retail price of $18,500, is scheduled to make its debut in the Los Angeles area later this year with a nationwide roll-out to follow.

The S.C. Commerce Department declined to comment specifically on the Electra Meccanica project. But a spokeswoman said the state's automotive industry — which includes manufacturers BMW in the Upstate and Volvo Cars and Mercedes-Benz Vans in the Charleston region — makes South Carolina a prime spot for more vehicle makers.

"Companies like to locate where they know they can be successful, and South Carolina has a proven track record in the automotive industry," said Alex Clark with the Commerce Department. "Our pro-business environment, including unparalleled logistics, an extensive supplier network and the demonstrated ability to build high-quality, complex products is welcoming to all manufacturing operations."

The decision to locate an assembly plant in the U.S. would let Electra Meccanica avoid steep tariffs placed on finished Chinese-made cars.

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"It's the ability to avoid cumbersome tariffs through local assembly of knock-down kits supplied by Zongshen," said Bal Bhuller, Electra Meccanica's chief financial officer. She said the U.S. site would mitigate against global economic factors and supply chain disruptions.

If South Carolina is chosen, the knocked-down cars would be imported through the Port of Charleston, which has experience with such cargo. Mercedes-Benz Vans has imported partially assembled Sprinters for assembly at its North Charleston plant and BMW is shipping an increasing number of knocked-down cars from its Spartanburg County campus for reassembly in foreign countries.

Of the states being considered for the assembly plant, only South Carolina will have a 52-foot-deep harbor and a new container terminal in the coming year, said Jim Newsome, president and CEO of the State Ports Authority, which owns and operates the Port of Charleston.

"South Carolina Ports offers customers efficient operations and big-ship capabilities, and our inland port network gives companies direct access to marine terminals via a dual-served rail network," Newsome said. The authority is "also known for decades of experience handling vehicles for global manufacturers," he said.

Bhuller calls the Solo "a trend-setting, all-electric, single-seat vehicle expected to revolutionize the commuting, delivery and shared mobility experience."

The Solo has been described as a cross between a car and a motorcycle. Electra Meccanica says the single-seat vehicle is a more economical choice for the nearly 90 percent of people the Census Bureau says commute to work alone and for food and other delivery services.

"So many vehicles are being driven by one person," Paul Rivera, CEO of Electra Meccanica, told The New York Times. "Why does everybody think they need to drive around and leave three or four empty seats?"

The Solo would have a top speed of 80 miles per hour with a range of 100 miles on a four-hour charge. The company has built 64 prototypes that are in use as test vehicles.

Reach David Wren at 843-937-5550 or on Twitter at @David_Wren_

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