Exiled China tycoon in U.S. clean vehicle plan

HONG KONG Fri Oct 16, 2009 6:50am EDT

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HONG KONG (Reuters) - Yang Rong, a Chinese automobile tycoon who fled the country after being accused of economic crimes, said he plans three multi-billion-dollar U.S. plants to make 3 million clean-technology vehicles per year by 2017.

The former chairman of Brilliance China Automotive Holdings, BMW's partner in China, also said he was seeking investors for a 60 billion yuan ($8.8 billion) project in China to make 6 million clean-tech engines, half for use in his U.S. plants, and 3 million vehicles a year.

"I'm good at two things: one is using investments to make cars and the other is using cars to make money," a confident Yang told Reuters an interview from his home in Los Angeles on Friday.

Yang, now chairman of a tiny firm called Far East Golden Resources Group, said he had developed a powerful 1.5-liter hybrid engine that could be used in all manner of vehicles and could deliver a fuel performance of 50 miles per gallon.

The engine, which he called the first of its kind in the world, is natural gas-based and can also be powered by gasoline and electricity, said Yang, whom Forbes ranked as China's third-richest man in 2001.

Other carmakers, including Toyota Motor, General Motors, Ford Motor, BYD Co, are racing to develop electric and hybrid cars as the U.S. and other governments set tough fuel economy and emissions standards.

Analysts expressed caution, however. The greenfield project depends on unproven technology and is being launched in one of the world's most competitive automotive markets.

It is also unclear whether the level of fuel economy achieved in a laboratory can be applied in mass production.

"I wouldn't take his word seriously as he has no proof that the technology he claims to have mastered can be used in mass production," said Boni Sa, an analyst with CSM Worldwide, a global industry consultancy.

HURDLES

Yang, who is also called Yeung Yung, was at one time China's most influential carmaker, helping transform Brilliance from a stagnant state-owned auto factory into the country's top maker of mini-vans.

He fled China in 2002 after being accused of economic crimes. An arrest order was later approved by the government of the northeastern province of Liaoning, where Brilliance is based.

Yang denied wrongdoing and said he is in the process of resolving a disagreement with the Chinese authorities on the rights of the certain assets.

"They said the assets belong them and I said the assets belong to me and you can't say this kind of issue on asset rights is crime," he added.

To ensure a smooth launch of the project in China, Yang will not invest or take any directorship at the beginning, he said.

The Chinese project will need a roughly 20 billion yuan capital investment. That would come from Chinese entrepreneurs and the capital market.

Yang hired Wang Chuntao, a former engineer of top U.S. carmaker General Motors, to run the research and development and veteran financier Charles Huang as vice chairman of the project.

BIG DREAMS

Yang is in talks to set up a base in Detroit to make several kinds of utility vehicles, and another plant in an unspecified state to produce trucks. He is also setting up a $7.8 billion sedan-manufacturing project in the U.S. state of Alabama.

The three plants, to be run by a firm called HK Motors Corporation, would create more than 54,000 jobs in the United States.

Construction on the Alabama plant is scheduled to start in May or June 2010, with a capacity of 300,000 units per year by 2013 and 1 million by 2017. Other projects will also start in the first half of 2010.

Yang plans to fund the U.S. plants in large part using a U.S. government scheme aimed at immigrant investors from Asia, Europe and South America.

HK Motors has proposed initially to offer 15.72 million Class A Limited Partnership Units at $500 each to raise $7.86 billion to fund the Alabama plant.

($1=6.826 Yuan)

(Additional Reporting by Fang Yan; Editing by Doug Young, Don Durfee and Chris Lewis)

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