BENTONVILLE, Ark. (KNWA/KFTA) — Thirteen people were laid off as Canoo’s plans to build electric vehicles in Bentonville hit a roadblock.

The EV startup had planned to begin production there in 2022, and 545 jobs were expected to come with it. Now, those plans are on hold indefinitely.

Thirteen manufacturing associates had been hired in Bentonville in 2022, ready to begin production for Canoo.

“I do know some people who left some good paying jobs with good benefits because they wanted to be a part of something new and upcoming and something that was going to be growing in the community,” a friend of the former employees said, speaking on their behalf out of fear they could lose their severance.

On Friday, March 10, those 13 people were laid off.

“Everybody thought everything was fine,” that friend said. “They had a secure job and then Friday afternoon out of the blue, the phone’s ringing and you don’t have a job.”

Production was originally scheduled to start by the end of 2022. KNWA/FOX24 visited the 275,000-square-foot facility to see if any work was being done. Instead, a different company was found inside.

Canoo is now subleasing part of its plant. The lot next door, which was also expected to be filled by Canoo, still sits empty.

“We got stuck so we had to kick into plan B which took jobs out of Northwest Arkansas,” Canoo CEO Tony Aquila said. In an exclusive interview, Aquila told KNWA that they hit a roadblock when negotiating a lease for that second building.

“Because of the type of equipment we were going to put in there and what it was going to do, they wanted north of a $40 million deposit,” Aquila said.

As Canoo tried to work out a deal, the 13 manufacturing associates already hired had no work to do.

“In the meantime, they gave them some side jobs to do,” their friend said.

The employees say they spent months volunteering at local non-profits. Aquila said the company donated 22,000 hours of work worth about $500,000. But eventually, it became apparent they could not secure that second building.

“The sad part is of the whole equation, it was a loss of hundreds of advanced manufacturing paying jobs,” Aquila said.

KNWA/FOX24 asked Aquila if Canoo was still moving to Bentonville.

“It’s part of our long-term strategy. What we need to now do is just to get our Oklahoma City site up, our Pryor site; our battery assembly site. Work moved from Northwest Arkansas into those two sites,” he said.

But he says Canoo will be back.

“Our commitment to headquarters and all of those things, we will develop in there. We’ll find some areas that are now emerging where they’re starting to build,” Aquila said.

Those hundreds of jobs though could still be a ways off, as the positions that were created have now turned into jobs lost.

Pre-orders continue to roll in

Despite its delays, orders have continued to roll in for the EV startup. Walmart has agreed to buy 4,500 Canoo vehicles. Kingbee ordered 9,300 and Zeeba ordered 3,000.

Photo Courtesy of Canoo

Canoo is now focused on hitting production at plants in Oklahoma City and Pryor, OK.

“We’ll be delivering cars this year,” Aquila said.

“Our order book is super solid. We’re not trying to sell one vehicle at a time. We’re actually working to try and really hit the country’s goals,” Aquila said.