A Chinese automaker is starting assembly in Oklahoma – after an earlier deal in Texas fell through – and, even so, the project seems more certain than Nanjing’s much-hyped plans to build MGs there.

Unusually, this deal, with some financial assistance from the state, and a specially constructed rail spur, will see Tiger Trucks, designed by Changan Automobile Group, China’s third largest vehicle manufacturer, built mostly for export, and then only for off-road use in the US and Canada. Later, larger models will be road-legal everywhere.

Tiger Trucks had previously intended to build the trucks in Texas but the lengthy statement announcing the factory (but not, specifically, a change of state) cited only events beyond various parties’ control as the reason it did not proceed.

“Circumstances beyond the control of most involved prevented us from completing an earlier announced plan.  Oklahoma’s very responsive and comprehensive efforts have permitted Tiger to maintain our original aggressive plan to be delivering US-made trucks in the first quarter of 2008,” Ward said.

The replacement Oklahoma deal was apparently enough to lure state governor Brad Henry, state senator Kenneth Corn, Poteau city Mayor Jeff Shockley and various assorted state and local officials to jointly announce the plant.

Tiger Truck already imports and distributes the trucks for ChangAn, which in China has manufacturing agreements with Suzuki, Ford and Mazda.

Mike Ward, founder and CEO of Tiger Truck, said ” Our long-standing partnership with ChangAn has been exemplary and has led to a series of historic firsts. In our off-road vehicle class, Tiger has been first to build an automatic transmission, 4WD, limited slip differential, electric drive, hybrid drive, and now we will be first to deliver true ‘made in US’ vehicles with a Chinese heritage. Our strong dealer network and fast-growing number of users is loud testament to the quality of product delivered historically and our ability to control quality just increased manifold.”

Tiger’s vehicles are sold for off-highway use on locations such as college campuses, golf courses, military bases, farms, nurseries and industrial sites.

Initially, nearly 80% of the trucks manufactured in the US will be for export. The Poteau facility will assemble two new truck platforms. The Champ, available in a two-door or four-door crew cab, is a full-size pickup truck with over 3,000 lb. Capacity and will be sold in the US and Canada for off-road use. Another version of this platform for export only is called the Leopard and will be configured with a diesel engine, dual rear wheels, and other features that make it suitable for on-road use in export markets.

To follow mid-year is a second platform of medium duty trucks with GVW of 14,000 lbs., 17,000 lbs. and 21,000 lbs. These will be sold worldwide for on-road use, including in the US. This truck will be delivered with an EPA/CARB certified diesel engine.

Tiger Trucks is using an 112,000 square foot facility in Poteau that was formerly a plastics factory. The automaker said it requires only modest up-fitting to be an efficient engineering and assembly facility complete with modern paint booth and there is ample expansion capacity to meet the needs of the foreseeable future.

Ward said: “We already have equipment in transit to Poteau that will be met by our vanguard staff as they begin to establish operations in our new facility this month”. Tiger will also immediately begin hiring locally – it plans to have 100 employees here in the first year of operation and will have single-shift capacity of producing 7,500 vehicles per year.   It expects to have around 300 employees by the end of the third year of operations.