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DesignLine buyer aims to hire, ramp up production

The company that now owns the assets of bankrupt Charlotte bus maker DesignLine says it has a new name, has hired 40 people and is eager to ramp up production.

The only catch is the hybrid bus maker needs customers.

One major client, Denver’s Regional Transportation District, on Tuesday asked a federal bankruptcy court judge to cancel a contract for 32 buses, arguing the company has missed deadlines producing vehicles and is likely to miss more. U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Craig Whitley postponed a decision until a hearing on Jan. 24.

An attorney for California-based Wonderland Investment Group, which agreed to buy DesignLine’s assets in October for $1.6 million, said the company is willing to pay $620,000 to the bankruptcy estate as a benefit to creditors if it can proceed with the Denver contract.

Wonderland is a well-financed company with $10 million in assets and is focused on reviving the bus maker, attorney Rick Mitchell told reporters after the hearing. Wonderland has changed the bus maker’s name to EPV Corp., which stands for Environmental Performance Vehicles.

“This is a dedicated, serious startup,” Mitchell said. “It will work.”

A group of Charlotte investors led by retired Air Force Lt. Gen Brad Glosson and his son, Brad, bought DesignLine in 2006 and moved it to Charlotte from New Zealand. The company attracted high-profile local investors and employed former Charlotte Mayor Anthony Foxx from late 2009 until July, when he became U.S. transportation secretary.

After struggling financially, DesignLine changed management in 2012. It filed for bankruptcy protection in August 2013, and laid off most of its workforce, which had once totaled more than 300. The Observer also reported in November that the FBI is investigating DesignLine over allegations that it placed used parts in new buses.

Mitchell said EPV now has 40 workers, many of whom previously worked at the company. EPV is talking to potential customers, but Mitchell declined to give details.

“If we can ramp things up, we can put a whole bunch of people back to work,” he said.

Mitchell said the company can start production more quickly because Wonderland bought the assets of a company called Metrolina Steel for $1.2 million in a bankruptcy auction. Charlotte-based Metrolina, which made chassis for the buses, filed for bankruptcy a day before DesignLine.

Rothacker: 704-358-5170; Twitter: @rickrothacker
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