Supercar facility project back on track in West Richland

Kristi Pihl, Tri-City HeraldMay 10, 2014 

Construction should start in August on a state-of-the-art manufacturing facility to produce the sophisticated supercars made by SSC North America in West Richland.

Company founder Jerod Shelby and city officials celebrated a ground-breaking for the $6 million project a year ago.

Shelby said the company is ready to move forward on a new 40,000-square-foot SSC headquarters near Belmont Boulevard and Keene Road. Delays caused by the company providing the funding have been resolved.

"This is a lifelong dream for me," he said. "We will get there and the project will be very successful."

The factory for the sleek cars also represents a dream for West Richland city officials. SSC's new manufacturing plant will mean more sales tax revenue for the city, which is mostly a bedroom community that has struggled to build a commercial base.

"It's going to be a huge economic boost for us," West Richland Mayor Brent Gerry said.

The city invested in the company's future, buying 40 acres to create the Belmont Business District. SSC is under contract to buy four of those acres for the factory.

The city will use the revenue from the land sale to repay an $820,000 loan from the state Community Economic Revitalization Board.

The Port of Kennewick, Benton County and the Hanford Area Economic Investment Fund Advisory Committee contributed to help West Richland provide the matching dollars needed for the loan.

The city plans to attract businesses to the other business district that will complement SSC and the local wine industry, Gerry said.

SSC's factory also could become an added tourist draw. Gerry said he can foresee having a sign near the future Red Mountain interchange on Interstate 82 marking the exit for the SSC world headquarters.

Lamborghini and Ferrari started like SSC -- in someone's garage. Those companies, still in their founders' hometowns, have seen their production plants become tourist attractions, Shelby said.

SSC was thrust onto the world stage after the Ultimate Aero, driven by then-71-year-old Chuck Bigelow of Richland, broke a previous Guinness World Record and became the world's fastest production car with an average speed of just over 256 mph.

Now, SSC is well known overseas, Shelby said. The perception is that the company has a state-of-the-art factory. "We now need that factory," he said.

To date, SSC supercars have been made in a shop at Shelby's home. The cars have had to leave multiple times to have parts of the manufacturing process finished in other facilities, Shelby said.

But starting next year, "everything is done in house," he said.

The company also will be able to put the first 200 miles on each car without leaving the factory, Shelby said. Those miles are necessary to recheck and calibrate the car before delivering it to the customer.

They will have an automated dynamometer that can hook onto all four wheels of the car and will run the car in place, he said.

The new production facility also will feature a showroom open to the public so people can see the cars without having to be a customer, Shelby said. The Ultimate Aero that broke the world record will be in the showroom, and there will be a museum area with the history of the company.

Shelby said his previous production process meant he and his employees could build four to five cars a year. Shelby's company built 15 Ultimate Aero's between 2007-10.

With the new facility and manufacturing process, the number of cars built each year will jump up to 24 to 30, eventually, he said.

Shelby already has a waiting list for the Tuatara, the next model for the company.

The price tag for the hypercar is $1.3 million, but Shelby said it is the least expensive among the few models available in the 240 mph-plus range.

SSC made the final Ultimate Aero two years ago before switching its focus to the Tuatara, which has been in the works for four years.

The new factory should open in the first three months of 2015, Shelby said.

There will be a six-month test assembly process before SSC will start to deliver the first cars to customers.

Shelby plans to manufacture 12 cars in the first year, moving up to 24 cars in the second year. It takes about 30 days to build one supercar, but Shelby said they typically will have two to three cars in process at any given time.

The cars are hand assembled, with no robotics used, he said.

The cars use strong, lightweight materials, Shelby said. The chassis and entire body of the Tuatara is made of carbon fiber.

More models of SSC cars already are on the drawing board. And Shelby hopes to make one an all-electric supercar, using an adaptable electric drive system. He said he's had the idea for about four years, but has been waiting for battery technology to catch up.

SSC will have enough property to expand its manufacturing the facility if needed for new models, Shelby said.

The company will grow from 14 employees to about 26 before the new facility opens. Shelby said he expects to continue to add employees as production expands.

-- Kristi Pihl: 582-1512; kpihl@tricityherald.com

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