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Flashback: The Strange Case of Yung Yeung

Chairman Yung Yeung of Hybrid Kinetic Motors speaks at the Convention Center at the Renaissance Hotel and Spa in Montgomery, Jan. 19, 2010.

Chairman Yung Yeung of Hybrid Kinetic Motors speaks at the Convention Center at the Renaissance Hotel and Spa in Montgomery, Jan. 19, 2010.

AP Photo/Montgomery Advertiser, David Bundy

In September 2009, a Chinese tycoon announced plans to build in Alabama one of the most ambitious auto plants in U.S. history.

Yung Yeung, the founding chairman of Brilliance Automotive — the first Chinese government-owned company listed on the New York Stock Exchange (1992)  — said his new company, Hybrid Kinetic Motors, would set up shop in Baldwin County and start producing hybrid electric vehicles in 2012, ramping up to 3 million vehicles per year by 2018.

It was still sounding too good to be true when Business Alabama took a look at the deal in the April 2010 issue.

“Unless you’re in the auto industry, it’s hard to grasp the scale of this enterprise,” said Charles Child, editor of Automotive News’ “China Newsletter,” who wasn’t buying any of it. Yeung — ranked by Forbes in 2001 as the third wealthiest entrepreneur in China — was simply creating “a visa factory,” said Child — taking advantage of the EB-5 visa program, which grants a green card to families that invest $500,000 in a U.S. business.

Gov. Bob Riley had his picture taken going for a spin with Yeung in an electric car. Baldwin County officials lined up a 2,400-acre development site. But the deal played out the next year, when HK officials said they had failed to raise the needed financing.

HK Motors LP hasn’t stirred any news since. But Yeung has created another U.S. company, HK Battery Technology Inc., which is registered as a public company with the SEC, although no stock has been issued. HK Battery began in 2012 with the acquisition of Nevada Gold Holdings, which owned a gold mine near U.S. Naval Air Station Fallon, in Fallon, Nevada — home of the pilot tactics program known as Top Gun. The deal was scrutinized by the federal Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, which looks into potential impacts on national security, and the U.S. required HK Battery to divest the gold mine and steer clear of the military base. 

The website thedeal.com noted, in 2012, that the Nevada gold mine Yeung tried to buy had one thing in common with the site in Baldwin County where HK Motors wanted to locate — its proximity within 50 miles of a major pilot training base — Naval Air Station Pensacola, in Pensacola, Florida. 

Chris McFadyen is the editorial director of Business Alabama.

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