DeLorean is coming! DeLorean is coming!
Greater:SATX made the fanfare Valentine’s Day announcement on Monday that the DeLorean Motor Company will establish its new headquarters at Port San Antonio with plans to enter the fast-growing electric vehicle market.
Read the full news release here.
It might be prudent to hold off on the roses and Champagne, even as the city of San Antonio and Bexar County assemble a package of financial incentives to close the deal with the Humble, Texas-based company that purchased the rights to the DeLorean name and services the remaining futuristic sports cars designed and built in the early 1980s.
For taxpayers, the media and those who might be seeking one of the promised 450 executive and engineering positions, this is the frustrating watch-and-wait period, a time when most questions do not come with an answer.
While commending greater:SATX President and CEO Jenna Saucedo-Herrera and her board and staff for landing this deal, the announcement is short on the kind of details many of us will require to become convinced this is the real deal.
After all, the reconstituted DeLorean Motor Company has released only a teaser video hinting at its future product.
The original DeLorean company managed to produce 9,000 of the gull-winged sports cars in 1981 and 1982 at a Northern Ireland plant before it went bankrupt. John Delorean, its engineering whiz and mediagenic founder desperate for a capital infusion, was charged in connection with a cocaine trafficking deal but acquitted after his defense argued the FBI had entrapped him.
Fast forward to 2022 and a company with not much more than a name that generates nostalgia driven by the Back to the Future films that featured the DeLorean car. What evidence is there that DeLorean has the enormous capital and credit to design, manufacture and market electric vehicles?
Monday’s statement by DeLorean CEO Joost de Vries focused more on the region’s advanced manufacturing capacity rather than his coming headquarters.
“We are grateful for the tremendous support we’ve received from the community,” de Vries said. “San Antonio boasts a growing component and vehicle manufacturing sector as well as a wide array of global advanced manufacturing operations. This allows us countless synergies between established companies and suppliers in the broader region. A deep talent pool and a strong local academic ecosystem will foster further innovation.”
If DeLorean intends to leverage the local ecosystem, why not announce that the greater San Antonio metro area will become home to a future assembly plant and supplier network?
Perhaps DeLorean and local officials know more than they are publicly saying. If, however, the return of DeLorean as an automobile manufacturer is still aspirational, guardrails will need to be built into any tax incentive package to make sure taxpayers are not left holding the bag if the company fails to produce and sell electric vehicles.
Toyota invested $2.1 billion in its advanced manufacturing plant established on the city’s South Side in 2003 and invested $391 million more with its 2019 expansion. No one expects DeLorean to scale to Toyota size, or necessarily need billions to get started, but it will certainly take hundreds of millions of dollars to build a 450-person white-collar workforce and move from concept car to vehicle assembly line.
It also will take years. Does DeLorean have the right partners and investors to build an advanced manufacturing and assembly facility here or elsewhere? If so, it’s a tightly guarded secret.
San Antonio is ideally located and suited to grow its vehicle manufacturing industry, even if other automobile companies have kicked the tires here and then walked away. I’ve long rooted for such growth and been perplexed by the lukewarm interest from auto executives, especially given Toyota’s success building Tundra and Tacoma pickup trucks here.
San Antonio came up short in 2014 when Tesla founder Elon Musk chose Reno, Nevada, for a $5 billion battery factory. We failed to attract the attention of Volvo in 2015 when it ultimately selected South Carolina for its first U.S. assembly plant.
San Antonio was never really in the running when Musk announced plans in 2020 to move his own company headquarters to Texas, or when he selected a site outside Austin to build a new $1.1 billion Tesla vehicle manufacturing and assembly plant.
DeLorean could prove to be the next big leap forward for San Antonio’s manufacturing sector and a showcase company HQ at Port San Antonio. Or it could prove to be yet another deal with a big announcement that fails to materialize. San Antonio’s city, county and economic development leaders should do everything possible to make DeLorean a success story and everything they can to protect San Antonians if that does not happen.