Spokane Journal of Business

Electric car maker's West Plains plant appears to be moving forward

Complex could employ up to 4,000 people in coming years, Mullen CEO says

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(Updated at 2:50 p.m. 7/16/2020 after agreement was signed.)

Work on Mullen Technologies Inc.'s planned 1.3 million-square-foot West Plains manufacturing facility could start as early as September, says Mullen CEO and founder David Michery.

While that timeline might prove to be optimistic, S3R3 Solutions today approved an extended letter of intent with Mullen. Once the young electric-car manufacturer meets the requirements outlined in the letter, the project can move forward, says Todd Coleman, executive director the the S3R3 public development agency.

The agreement between S3R3 and Mullen expires Dec. 31. The original agreement expired on March 31. 

Michery says the facility will emphasize the company's battery production and likely will employ upwards of 1,000 more employees than originally anticipated because of the labor-intensive process. If that proves to be true, the facility could employ as many as 4,000 people in the coming years.  

As the Journal originally reported, Mullen expected to employ over 860 people in vehicle assembly here by 2026, with its next-generation lithium battery research and development operations expecting to increase the job count to roughly 3,000.

Meantime, the Brea, California-based electric car manufacturer also recently announced it had signed a letter of intent with Axiom Financial for $135 million in funding to acquire and renovate an existing vehicle manufacturing plant in the U.S.

A portion of that funding will go toward Mullen's anticipated $56 million deposit to public development authority S3R3 Solutions, which will kick off lease negotiations and allow the development of Mullen's planned Spokane facility to move forward, Coleman says.

Mullen has been preapproved for funding via a line of credit with Axiom Financial, according to a press release.

Once the financing is finalized, S3R3 Solutions will begin negotiations with Mullen, which Coleman says typically take 90 daysbut can take more time.

Despite Michery's hopes of a September start, Coleman says it's more likely work on the facility will start next spring, as the project still needs to go through the design phase and be sent out to bid.

Once construction begins, the facility could be up and running within 24 months, Michery estimates.

The company plans to build a 1.3 million-square-foot facility on the northeast corner of Thorpe and Craig roads. The project is planned to be completed in phases, with the company initially occupying about 500,000 square feet of space for vehicle assembly and lithium battery research and production while the remaining 800,000 square feet is built. 

Coleman says S3R3 will lease the property from the Spokane International Airport, build the facility, and then sublease it to Mullen.

S3R3 Solutions hasn't completed cost estimates for the project yet, Coleman says, but he says the "starting target would be $50 million for the assembly plant, and that's for the initial 500,000 square feet."

The project will be financed through a revenue bond sold by the development authority. 

Michery says the company has sent out feelers to a number of original equipment manufacturers in the automotive industry nationwide in search of a suitable facility to purchase.

"Maybe a formerly owned Ford plant, General Motors, Chrysler, Mercedes, BMW -- some plant somewhere in the U.S. that wants to sell, and then we can come in and get a full-blown body shop, paint shop, and general assembly so we can do full-blown U.S. manufacturing," he says.

That facility will host the company's heavy manufacturing operations, Michery says, unlike the Spokane facility, which is planned to be light assembly of the company's Dragonfly K50 electric sports car.

He adds that batteries developed at the Spokane facility likely will be shipped by rail to the company's planned manufacturing plant.

Once the heavy manufacturing facility is purchased and renovated, which is expected to be completed in 2022, Mullen intends to begin manufacturing its midsize luxury electric sport utility vehicle, the MX-05, according to a press release on the company's website.

The MX-05 is slated to launch in the third or fourth quarter of 2021, with several hundred units expected to be pre-launched during that time. Full production of the vehicle is slated to begin in 2022.

Mullen also has its sights set on going public, with its agreement to merge with Miami-based Net Element Inc., a global technology company that supports electronic payments acceptance in point-of-sale, e-commerce, and mobile devices.

Net Element, a publicly traded company, intends to merge with Mullen in a stock-for-stock reverse merger, in which Mullen's stakeholders will receive the majority of the outstanding stock post-merger, according to a press release.

Under the terms of the merger, shareholders of Mullen would receive 85% ownership of the remaining entity at closing, with Net Element's investors owning 15%.

Michery says that merger gave Mullen the ability to leverage stock and find financing for its project.

On Jan. 8, the company also filed an application with the U.S. Department of Energy for a $450 million Advanced Technology Vehicles Manufacturing loanMichery adds, which is currently under review.

Energy Secretary Dan Brouillette also is expected today to announce an electric-car battery grant that will total over $100 million, Bloomberg reports. The grant is meant to "accelerate the development, commercialization, and utilization of energy storage technologies." 

Natasha Nellis
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Reporter Natasha Nellis joined the Journal in May 2018 and covers real estate and construction. Natasha is an avid reader and loves taking photos, traveling, and learning new languages.

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