Whatever Happened To: Mullen’s plans for a West Plains electric-vehicle manufacturing plant
Startup Mullen Automotive moves on from Spokane, opens new plant in SouthJanuary 27th, 2022
Mullen Automotive Inc. appears to have left Spokane and Memphis, Tennessee both in its rearview mirror and now is planning to base its initial electric-vehicle production in Mississippi.
In the Journal’s last report on the Brea, California-based EV manufacturing startup last March, Mullen CEO David Michery said the company was still reviewing its Spokane-area plans and was “waiting to see if we’re going to get any incentives from (Washington) state.”
At the time, Michery had just announced Mullen’s intentions to lease manufacturing space in Memphis, Tennessee, leaving its earlier announced plans to locate here in significant doubt.
Now, Michery confirms the company has “backed off” from Washington, because the state government has offered “zero incentives.”
Mullen initially had announced plans to come to the Spokane area in April 2019, when it signed a letter of agreement with public development authority S3R3 Solutions to develop a 1.3 million-square-foot facility for the assembly of its envisioned Dragonfly K50 sportscar, as well as for a potential lithium battery research and development facility on the West Plains. The plant was expected to employ at least 800 here by 2026.
S3R3’s mission is to provide support for public-benefit projects that create advanced manufacturing, aerospace, and distribution jobs in the district surrounding Spokane International Airport.
However, Todd Coleman, the agency’s executive director, says Washington state doesn’t allow for public incentives of the scope that were offered to Mullen by entities in Tennessee.
Those enticements were valued at over $120 million, including $40.5 million in tax breaks from the economic development agency for Memphis and Shelby County, Tennessee, Coleman says.
Here, S3R3 had expected the technology startup to raise enough capital to ensure its viability before the agency could proceed with facilities plans, Coleman says.
“The major condition we had was they had to complete fundraising,” Coleman says of stalled negotiations here with Mullen, which S3R3 hasn’t heard from in several months. “We wanted to protect the Spokane region and not get out too far over our skis until they produced major (financing) milestones.”
A letter of intent for Mullen to lease the planned facilities here expired Dec. 31, 2020, after it had been extended multiple times.
Michery says he has high praise for S3R3 and its proposal to develop a site for Mullen to lease. He adds, however, “There’s no tax credits and help from the state to offset our exposure. They’ve got Microsoft and Amazon over there. I guess they don’t need us.”
Not only has Mullen gone silent with S3R3, it turns out the company also isn’t parking in Tennessee either, confirms John Lawrence, economic development specialist with the Memphis and Shelby County Economic Development Growth Engine.
Despite offers of incentives, negotiations didn’t work out between Mullen and the property owner at the Memphis site, and another project—one not involving Mullen—is in the works there, Lawrence says.
In mid-November, however, Mullen purchased an idle 124,000-square-foot, electric-vehicle manufacturing facility 40 miles south of Memphis, on a 100-acre site in Robinsonville, Mississippi, where the company has announced plans to build another 1.2 million square feet of manufacturing space.
With facilities secured and planned in Mississippi, the company currently is focusing on its Mullen Five crossover and EV cargo van programs, rather than the sportscar production it had envisioned in Spokane.
In an investor update issued earlier this month, Mullen states it is on track to deliver fleet-order cargo vans in the second quarter of this year, and it’s on pace to produce fully functional and drivable Mullen Five EVs the following quarter.
Since changing course on its production location plans, Mullen also has completed a reverse merger with publicly traded company Net Element and began trading under the Nasdaq symbol MULN on Nov. 5, with a first-day closing price of $11.77 per share. The per-share price was $3.40 as of Friday, Jan. 21, falling from a peak of $13.14 on Nov. 16.