By James T. Hammond
Published July 1, 2010
This morning, officials at South Korean manufacturer CT&T declared their goal of becoming the market leader and trend-setter in electric-powered vehicles in North America from their new Spartanburg County base.
The officials said the company will invest $21 million and create 370 jobs at a Spartanburg assembly and distribution center.
CT&T will partner with the project management firm 2AM Group under the name CT&T Southeast LLC. 2AM Group, which leases offices at the S.C. Highway 290 Commerce Park Building 1 in Spartanburg, works with engineering, logistics and technical management for the automotive, aerospace and marine industries.
Artie Perry, President and CEO of 2AM Group, said his company will have an ongoing partnership with CT&T in the design and operation of manufacturing facilities, in part to continually optimize the manufacturing process.
CT&T plans to build and distribute electric-powered vehicles that can travel up to 35 mph for nationwide distribution.
Curt Westlake, senior director of marketing for CT&T USA, said the company’s near-term strength is that it already has a robust line of light, short-range vehicles and is marketing them in showrooms in the Lowcountry. Its vehicles, for example, are sold near Kiawah and Seabrook islands, where speed limits are about 25 mph.
Westlake said he sees about half of the company’s near-term sales coming from commercial and institutional customers who need delivery and service vehicles in a slow-speed traffic environment.
In the longer term, Westlake said he expects CT&T to develop larger vehicles for use on highways and in heavier service roles.
Demand for such vehicles is rising on college campuses and large industrial sites. Duke Energy, for example, has committed itself to an electric-powered vehicle fleet, and Perry said CT&T is in talks with the utility company about supplying some of those vehicles.
CT&T officials predicted the Spartanburg County facility would be fully operational by the fourth quarter of this year. It will assemble complete kits for the cars shipped from South Korea. Officials said they aim to switch to domestic parts as quickly as possible; Joseph White, chief operating officer of CT&T USA, said the company is in talks with Michelin about supplying tires.
Under the joint venture, CT&T will manufacture its e ZONE and c ZONE vehicles in South Carolina. The e ZONE electric low-speed vehicle can run up to 70 miles on a single charge. The c ZONE line consists of a variety of low-speed electric off-road and street-legal vehicles, such as golf carts.
In today’s official announcement of the new industry, which took place in Columbia, Gov. Mark Sanford welcomed CT&T to South Carolina.
“Today serves as a reminder that South Carolina is making strides even in these challenging economic times,” he said. “This announcement represents not only a significant investment and hundreds of new jobs, but also another step toward expanding our state’s role in next-generation technologies. I’d give real credit to Secretary Joe Taylor and the team at Commerce for their continued successes in recruiting new opportunities to South Carolina.”
The new assembly plant will be adjacent to the Spartanburg Community College’s Tyger River campus, and the school will work with the company to train workers and develop the company’s new plant, said Para Jones, president of Spartanburg Community College.
White said CT&T is in talks with Clemson’s International Center for Automotive Engineering and the S.C. Technology and Aviation Center about creating a research and development arm of the company in the Upstate, adding that the company is looking “favorably” at such a prospect.
Westlake said that South Carolina leads the world in battery technology and that, by next year, he expects the technology to be “light years ahead of the vehicles we sell today.”
The company already has invested millions of dollars in research in South Korea, Westlake said, including partnerships with Kaist, a Korean research institution that he likened to MIT in the United States. And the company’s chief technology officer is Hwang Ho Park, a former president of Hyundai Motor Corp.
Said 2AM’s Perry: “The goal of this company is to create zero emissions-vehicles for the world.”