Startup electric vehicle company eyes potential Del. plant
GEORGETOWN — Triton-EV, a startup electric vehicle company, has Sussex County on its short list of sites to build its first car manufacturing plant by August 2021.
While no particular site in Delaware’s southern county has been named yet, Triton CEO and founder Himanshu Patel said he is weighing the benefits and costs to retrofit an existing site or building from the ground up.
“Sussex County would have low overhead compared to other locations we’re looking at. It’s also close and it would be easy to relocate, and that’s something we’re mindful of as many of our employees live in New Jersey where our headquarters is,” Patel told the Delaware Business Times.
Renewable energy company Triton Solar, headquartered in Cherry Hill, N.J, launched the electric vehicle division Triton-EV this April. The planned plant would manufacture the electric Triton H SUV, which is advertised driving 700 miles on a 200-kilowatt-hour battery pack manufactured by Triton. In comparison, the increasingly popular Tesla Model X has a 100-kWh battery that has a range of about 350 miles..
Delaware is competing against other states like West Virginia, South Carolina, California and more in the potential project. The First State was pitched by Robert Richards, a member of Triton’s business development team who spent his summers at Bethany Beach growing up.
Patel plans on relocating 80 jobs at Triton’s battery plant in San Francisco wherever Triton ends up building the production plant. By the end of next year, Patel hopes the company will expand to 2,000 employees and then 20,000 by 2026.
Sussex County may be up against stiff competition when it comes to what other states have to offer. Patel said that South Carolina officials offered a 1.1million-square-foot building at a significantly low cost, but he is not sold yet.
“It all depends on the situation, because it might not have everything we need for assembly. We’re looking at the cost at each site, what it could cost to build or whether it would be cost-effective to renovate an existing one,” he said. “It could also depend on incentives, but at this point I will say we’ve had great support from Delaware state and county officials. It’s very clear they’re motivated to move forward.”
Northern Delaware has a strong legacy of auto plants, including the General Motors’ Wilmington Assembly plant where as many as 1,200 cars a day came off the line, and Chrysler’s Newark Plant. While New Castle County has easy access to four states through the interstate highway network, Sussex County is more isolated at the center of the Delmarva peninsula
The geography doesn’t worry Patel though.
“We can easily place the SUVs on semi-trucks and have them shipped up to Wilmington and have access to highways,” he added.
If Triton-EV does choose Delaware, Patel believes it could trigger an auto plant renaissance with clean energy. It may also help to wipe away the long-lingering disappointment with the First State’s previous failed marriage with an electric vehicle maker.
Back in 2012, California-based Fisker Automotive announced it would use the former GM Boxwood plant to manufacture the Fisker Karma, a plug-in hybrid electric car, with the help of $20 million in state economic development incentives.
Fisker Automotive never made a car in Delaware, however, after its battery maker ran into trouble and more than 300 of its European-made cars were destroyed by Hurricane Sandy. In 2014, Fisker entered bankruptcy. The former GM plant would later see a new lease on life, as Amazon’s 3.8 million-square-foot distribution center now under construction.
“This would put Delaware on the map, since we’re not the typical car company,” Patel said. “Unlike the auto plants of the past where they manufacture every nut and bolt, we buy from other companies, so that would create market pressure for things like cab chassis interiors and others, and we would definitely start hiring locally. Delaware could be the starting point for clean energy in cars.”
By Katie Tabeling