Incredibly Weak WashPost Headline Hides Tough Story on Terry McAuliffe's 'Green' Car Business

August 11th, 2013 2:08 PM

The Washington Post ran its second tough front-pager in recent days on Terry McAuliffe, running for governor this fall in Virginia. But the headline at the very bottom of Page One was incredibly bland and weak: “McAuliffe enterprise off to slow start.”

The headline inside on A-12 was more accurate about Fredrick Kunkle’s story: “Venture haunts McAuliffe’s run for Va. Governor.” The venture is GreenTech, a “green” car company that McAuliffe first pitched as a job-creating business for Virginia – until Mississippi offered more subsidies. The worst part for Democrats came from guess who? An auto worker who grew frustrated over their “dysfunctional” attempt at its Mississippi assembly line:

"[N]ow we start full factory production, and at full capacity, we can make about a car an hour," McAuliffe told a local TV news station. McAuliffe told the New York Times at the time that his company would create 900 jobs by the end of 2012 and 10,000 cars in 2013.

But the reality has been different... GreenTech employs about 90 in Mississippi and 10 in Virginia, company spokesman Marianne McInerney said. On two successive days in June, a visitor to the Horn Lake plant's front parking lot counted about 40 cars.

Melvin Griffen, 53, a former GM employee who worked at GreenTech for 2 ½ years until February, said that what he saw inside the Horn Lake facility was like no other automobile plant he had seen, and the dysfunction was frustrating to him.

Building vehicles involved adding pieces one day and removing them the next, and modular sections called superforms were fastened together with glue and rivets in a way that failed to keep out dust and water, Griffen said. The plant lacked an automated assembly line that moved vehicles from stage to stage; workers pushed or pulled the machines along a track, he said.

And after pushing several stalled cars back to the plant because of unsuccessful test drives, Griffen said he felt that the company's claims about its battery's performance were exaggerated.

"Basically, they hired a lot of people who had no experience in the automotive field, including the managers," said Griffen, who spent 16 years on GM assembly lines. "To me, the plant was designed to fail."

When Griffen heard McAuliffe on a TV news report saying that the plant would produce a car an hour, Griffen laughed. He said the company produced perhaps one car every three days, although the process involved fastening together pre-assembled modules.

“When I say one every three days, that’s just putting them together,” Griffen said.

In separate interviews, Griffen and another former employee, Charles Overstreet, said that management sometimes asked workers to pretend that they were assembling cars when potential investors visited, usually from China, and that employees would remove parts from previously assembled cars and reattach them. A third former employee, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said he observed the same.

“We would just be standing there acting like we were doing something. But it was pre-planned what we were going to do. It was like a show,” Overstreet said.

Griffen said company officials and investors seemed more interested in the EB-5 program than in whether the cars would be successful.

“It just seemed like they were more interested in getting green cards than in making an investment. They emphasized that a lot,” Griffen said.

The named sources could count as disgruntled former employees. “Griffen and Overstreet were dismissed early this year from their nonunion jobs, along with several other employees, Both said they received no severance pay and were not given an adequate explanation for their being dismissed.” But that hardly makes McAuliffe look like a man of the auto-worker class.