DETROIT – Visionary Vehicles LLC founder Malcolm Bricklin says he is suing his former chief engineer Dennis Gore.

In an interview with Ward's at the 2007 North American International Auto Show here, Bricklin says he filed the lawsuit in Michigan this week against Gore, whom he hired in 2005 from Mitsubishi Motors North America to help him realize his dream of selling Chinese cars in the U.S.

Bricklin, who had a pact to distribute cars built by China’s Chery Automobile Co. Ltd. in the U.S. beginning in 2007, says he pulled the plug on the deal in November, citing Chery’s pact with DaimlerChrysler AG to build subcompacts for the U.S. as having diverted the Chinese partner’s attention.

Last month, a man named Ken Grant filed a lawsuit in Michigan against both Chery and Visionary. The suit claims Grant was hired to be Chery’s design chief and that the company reneged on the plans in September, telling him it would bring cars to the U.S. via DC and not with Visionary.

The filing took Bricklin by surprise, largely because he had no knowledge Chery was working on its own to establish a design studio in the U.S.

Bricklin says both Grant and Gore were working with Chery without his knowledge.

“Apparently (Gore) and (Grant) had been talking for months about a deal (with Chery). The reason they sued us is because (Grant) is claiming my chief engineer (Gore) represented Visionary Vehicles.”

However, Bricklin claims if Grant and Gore planned to partner on designing Chery cars, “then Gore wasn’t working for me. He was working (for himself). So (the) suit, I think, will be thrown out when the judge sees exactly what happened.”

Gore and Visionary parted ways in November, Bricklin says, adding the staff of engineers Gore had hired also no longer work for Visionary.

“It shows the Chinese do not yet have the ethics or the quality we’ll call world class; and now that they’re going to be doing business outside of China, they’re going to have to modify their behavior and their quality,” Bricklin says.

As for Chery’s pact with DaimlerChrysler, Bricklin calls it a “brilliant move” for DC.

He says Chery “wasn’t ready for me,” and the cars they would be building were always “theirs.”

Despite the recent turmoil, Bricklin remains undeterred, claiming he will have Chinese-built vehicles to sell in the U.S. in 2009.

He says he currently is meeting with 15 Chinese auto makers and hopes to work with three that will build vehicles to his specifications. All the vehicles will be electric plug-ins and will range in price from $25,000-$50,000.

“I don’t have that (hybrid-electric vehicle) investment, so I can start from scratch with what is new and go to the next step,” Bricklin says when reminded industry leaders Toyota Motor Corp. and Honda Motor Co. Ltd. have said battery technology needs to improve before electric plug-ins are viable.

Bricklin says he is working with a Chinese battery supplier that already provides batteries for trucks and buses in China.

He promises his vehicles, which will be designed in the U.S., will achieve 100 mpg (2.35L/100 km). The interiors will have Bentley-quality materials.

“We’re going to have leather, but it may not be from cows Queen Elizabeth said hello to,” he says, adding the difference between a good interior and a great interior is only “hundreds of dollars more, not thousands of dollars.”

cschweinsberg@wardsauto.com