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China has burgeoning market for RVs, entrepreneur says

The Chinese government has placed a focus on developing the RV industry as a cornerstone of the Chinese ideal of the happy home life, says Winston Chung.

January 25, 2011|Stephen Ceasar and Shan Li, Los Angeles Times

China is hungry for the kind of recreational vehicles built in Southern California — at least according to the Chinese entrepreneur who struck a deal with a Riverside firm to build and export $5 billion worth of them.

The Chinese government has placed a focus on developing the RV industry as a cornerstone of the Chinese ideal of the happy home life, said Winston Chung.

Chinese investment: An article in the Jan. 25 Business section reported on a deal by Riverside firm MVP RV Inc. to build recreational vehicles for export to China. Winston Chung, the Chinese entrepreneur who struck the export deal with MVP RV and is its majority owner, was quoted as saying that gasoline-powered RVs will be the firm's focus. In fact, as the article noted elsewhere, the vehicles covered by the deal are diesel-powered. —

"A family with an RV is a family more in harmony with each other," he said, speaking through a translator. "During vacations, people can get into the RV and enjoy quality family time."

Under Chung's agreement with MVP RV of Riverside, the company plans to manufacture the vehicles here and export them to China. However, Chung would not rule out moving operations to China in the future.

Chung spoke about the burgeoning market in China for the motor homes after a news conference with UC Riverside Chancellor Timothy P. White, where they announced Chung's $10-million donation to UCR's Bourns College of Engineering.

In an interview with The Times, a smiling Chung cheerfully detailed his plans to build and export 30,000 diesel-powered motor homes to China, and eventually to develop electric-powered RVs. Chung, 52, is the founder of battery maker Winston Global Energy.

The nascent Chinese RV industry has the potential for high profit margins, despite high taxes on gas-guzzling vehicles, Chung said. He added that the increasing value of the yuan, the Chinese currency, will make buying an RV more affordable for families.

Headquartered in Shenzhen, China, Winston Global Energy produces batteries for electric bikes, electric motorcycles, electric automobiles and hybrid vehicles, and is currently the only company in the world engaged in mass production of rechargeable storage batteries for buses.

Last year, Chung became a majority owner in Riverside's MVP RV Inc. The company hopes to soon begin manufacturing 10,000 tour-bus-style and 20,000 smaller recreational vehicles. They will be exported over the next three to four years. The company said it would hire 1,200 new workers, primarily in production line jobs.

Formed in 2008, MVP RV began producing primarily travel trailers but stopped production four months later when stifled by the recession. The company was exploring the idea of building electric cars when the owners were introduced to Chinese entrepreneur Chung.

He paid $18.6 million in July for the Riverside factories and headquarters that were once the home of Fleetwood Enterprises, which filed for bankruptcy protection and left the area in 2009.

For now, the emphasis will be on gas-powered RVs, he said. The Chinese market "is really into gasoline RVs, so that is why we want to focus on that and trying to import it into China," he said. "If we do move manufacturing to China, I would like it to be for the manufacturing of electric RVs."

MVP RV has already created a prototype for the electric motor home and Chung plans to invest more money in the development of the technology in the near future.

Chung's interest in Southern California began with his initial investment in MVP RV, but he has business dealings in several Southland transportation firms. He hopes to begin developing an electric yacht and plans to invest in several boating companies in Southern California to do so.

On Tuesday, a heavy-duty truck, tractor and electrical systems maker in Los Angeles County that is also owned partly by Chung will announce that he has ordered $15.9 million worth of electric vehicle drive systems made in Southern California for buses in China.

Balqon Corp., based in Harbor City near Long Beach, said it expects to hire 150 workers over the next 18 months to build 300 electric vehicle drive systems to power buses carrying 15 to 40 passengers each. The drive systems are being purchased by Chung's company in China, Winston Global Energy.

"This order from Winston Global Energy validates the competitiveness of our technology in the global marketplace and will result in the creation of high-tech green jobs domestically," said Balwinder Samra, Balqon chief executive. Chung is a major shareholder in Balqon, founded in 2005.

The UCR gift would be the largest in the school's history, officials said. A building within the college of engineering will be renamed Winston Chung Hall and two professorships and a research center will be established in his name. The gift is to fund research related to clean battery power, solar energy and sustainable transportation, according to the university.

The research center, called the Winston Chung Global Energy Center, will focus on "life source rare earth lithium batteries," a technology invented by Chung, bio-inspired technology and the development of clean energy and energy storage, according to the school.

The gift is "a match of his passion with our ability," White said. Chung added that this would be his first donation to the school, but he is in talks to continue donations to the school, specifically to medical research.

When asked about his individual net worth, Chung chuckled and quipped, "Only God can know."

Times staff writer David Pierson contributed to this report.

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