Investors in the Batie - the road-straddling Transit Elevated Bus - have begun to panic and demand their money back after media reports suggested that the whole scheme is going off the rails.
Aside from concerns over whether or not the vehicle could ever actually work, media reports have focused on the shady ways in which money is being raised for the project.
Batie inventor Song Youzhou's defense of his project's feasibility has been dismissed by experts as "lacking basic physical considerations."
The government of Qinhuangdao, North China's Hebei Province, a partner in the project, has demolished its newly built Batie infrastructure and has announced it will terminate its cooperation with Song.
On Monday a Global Times reporter went to the offices of Huaying Kailai, an online financing platform which was raising money for the Batie by selling it as an investment product.
There were employees standing outside the elevator who said "we prevent fires, thieves and journalists."
An investor surnamed Yang waiting outside the office told the Global Times that she had invested in the Batie through Huaying Kailai to the tune of some 50,000 yuan ($7,538) and said she had come to demand her money back after reading reports about the project being a scam.
"I will only feel reassured when I have my money back, even if I have to pay the default," said Yang.
Huaying Kailai has been attracting investors with projected rates of return on the Batie project of up to 13 percent, Beijing Business Today reported. The Contemporary Business View found that the company's branch in Nanjing, East China's Jiangsu Province was officially suspected of illegal fundraising in 2015, after it offered rates reaching 16 percent.
But Huaying Kailai are now telling investors that they have no relations with Batie, Yang said.
Huaying Kailai owner, Bai Zhiming, is also the owner of China Build Enterprise Association, the company which was supposed to secure investors' loans to Batie through Huaying Kailai.
"If the lender and the securing party are connected, it has lost its function of securing and cannot protect creditors," said Liu Chunyan, an associate professor of law with the Shanghai-based Tongji University.
After widespread media coverage of doubts over Batie's feasibility, Song Youzhou tried to reassure the public, investors and government partners in an interview with news site thepaper.cn on August 8.
One of the worries is over the 4.7-meter height of the vehicle, which travels along two rails on either side of the road with a gap underneath which is meant to allow traffic to flow.
"Batie allows vehicles under 2.2 meters to pass, and the highest SUV is only 1.8 meters. But there are mostly ordinary cars on the road, big vehicles only account for less than 10 percent," said Song, adding those who say SUVs cannot pass under Batie were "not using their brain."
However, Yang Tao, chief of the Nanjing Institute of City & Transport Planning Company, told the Global Times on Monday that the restricted height will make driving difficult and reduce drivers' ability to see the road around them, potentially causing accidents.
As for the problem of making turns, Song said that traffic lights can be adapted to allow other cars to turn before the bus to avoid any collisions.
Yang said that this proposal, which would give the road exclusively to Batie for a time, would likely exacerbate traffic problems, rather than solve them - which was one of the main selling points of Batie.
Pumping the brakes
Song claimed in the interview that his invention was approved by the prestigious Shanghai Jiaotong University six years ago. Yet Zhang Jianwu, a Jiaotong University professor who was part of the panel that examined Batie six years ago, told thepaper.cn on August 8 that the panel only pointed out what problems need to be solved if the project wanted to be successful, and this did not mean they approved this project.
Batie had reached agreements with the governments of cities such as Qinghuangdao and Shenyang, Liaoning Province to start building Batie lines, according to the official website of Batie.
However, an employee from the Qinhuangdao government told the Global Times on Monday that their cooperation with Batie will be terminated at the end of this month.
Batie was not included in the list of road-based power-driven vehicle manufacturing enterprises and products published in May by China's Ministry of Industry and Information Technology, which means Batie is still not allowed to drive on public roads.