Agreement on supercar facility ends in lawsuits against SSC North America

The long-planned SSC North America supercar production facility destined for the Belmont Business District in West Richland is now at the center of a $10.3 million dispute.

A new $3.2 million commercial building — tenant to be determined — is going up at the property instead, and the high-performance car manufacturing plant is moving to Richland.

Ron Asmus, his wife Tracey and R.E.A. Construction LLC have sued Jerod O. Shelby and SSC North America LLC. Shelby is the chief executive officer and founder of SSC.

Shelby’s former business partners are suing for breach of contract related to multiple loans for construction of the West Richland vehicle production facility and to manufacture the Tuatara supercar for an upcoming car show.

The lawsuit alleges Shelby “breached the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing when they failed and/or refused to comply with the agreed-upon conditions.” The lawsuit also requests recovery of the plaintiffs’ fees for attorneys, as well as lost profits and opportunity costs.

The plaintiffs filed the lawsuit Dec. 24, 2018.

Shelby and SSC filed a counterclaim Jan. 24, asking the court to dismiss the lawsuit, citing breach of contract, good faith and fair dealing related to the ownership and plans to build a car manufacturing facility at 2943 Belmont Blvd. in West Richland.

The plan fell apart after SSC and Asmus were defrauded for several million dollars about four years ago, Shelby said.

“That devastating situation crippled us and brought us to our knees, and we are still feeling some of the effects of the trickle down from that unfortunate incident. This matter is also remnants of some of that trickle down,” Shelby told the Journal.

The counterclaim alleges third-party financial institutions committed fraud and deprived SSC of the money the company was supposed to get to pay for the 4.8 acres off Keene Road, near Leona Libby Middle School.

The company broke ground there for a $6 million manufacturing facility in 2013.

SSC and the city of West Richland agreed on a $1.2 million 20-year lease-to-purchase agreement for the city-owned land, as well as first right of refusal on an adjacent property, according to court documents.

SSC North America’s plans to build a manufacturing center, showroom and museum in West Richland continues to move ahead despite a change in property ownership. Company and city officials broke ground on the project in 2013. (File photo)
SSC North America’s had planned to build a manufacturing center, showroom and museum in West Richland. Company and city officials broke ground on the project in 2013. (File photo)

But when the financing deal fell apart, SSC was “unable to meet its payment obligations” with the city, court documents said. In all, SSC had paid more than $553,000 toward the land price.

Asmus and R.E.A. offered to pay the remaining balance in exchange for SSC’s agreement to transfer the land to Asmus and R.E.A., according to Shelby’s counterclaim.

Shelby turned over the land to Asmus via a deed in lieu of foreclosure in 2017.

Shelby’s counterclaim alleges Asmus and R.E.A. promised to sell the land back to SSC, and build a facility — but didn’t.

Asmus’ complaint alleges Shelby and SSC failed to repay their loans for the land lease payments and other loans.

Asmus deferred additional questions to his attorneys at Lukins & Annis Attorneys in Spokane.

Trevor Pincock, one of the firm’s attorneys, told the Journal: “There is certainly some disagreement between (the parties).”

Shelby declined to comment on Asmus’ claims but said, “obviously, we are looking forward to a just resolution of SSC North America’s claims and keeping our focus on the business of producing the world’s fastest production car right here in Washington.”

A trial date has not yet been set.

As the lawsuit winds its way through the court system, Asmus and Shelby are making new plans.

Asmus recently requested a permit for a 35,000-square-foot commercial building, valued at $3.2 million, on the Belmont Boulevard property once intended for the SSC plant.

Now, “it’s for whoever wants to buy it,” Asmus said.

He said construction should start in the next 60 to 90 days. No tenants have been identified yet but Asmus hopes that changes once the shell goes up.

Shelby, who grew up in the Tri-Cities, said his company is moving into a new manufacturing facility on May 24 in Richland, though he declined to specify where, citing security reasons.

“We are moving into a new facility this month that will allow us to ramp up to full scale production of our new hypercar, the Tuatara,” Shelby said. “Our offices and assembly facility will be located in the new space, increasing our production capabilities and allow us to integrate the community through open houses and scheduled tours. We are extremely excited about the opportunities that this new space will give us.”

Shelby said the company is calling 2019 “The Year of the Tuatara.”

“We have already begun production of the Tuatara, with final assembly and delivery taking place later this summer,” he said in an email to the Journal.

Shelby said the company plans to begin the car’s high-speed testing and validation later this year as well, and aims to break the world record for top speed and be the first production car to surpass 300 mph.

SSC, founded by Shelby in 1999, introduced the Tuatara prototype model in 2011, which has a projected top speed of 276 mph. It also was estimated to retail for $1 million.

An earlier SSC North America car, the Ultimate Aero, set a Guinness world record for driving 257 mph in 2007. It was the fastest speed ever for a production car.

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