After listening to Paul Lambert’s presentation at a recent automotive conference, I got to wondering: Where are the other 11 disciples?
Lambert, who graduated from the Moody Bible Institute where he majored in theology, is president of North American marketing for Visionary Vehicles, Malcolm Bricklin’s firm that intends to importcars from China into the U.S.
Lambert speaks of Bricklin with reverence. It is almost as if Bricklin founded a major religion, not a fledging auto import company.
Lambert’s conference address includes a video showing an occasionalcar, but mainly chronicling Bricklin being Bricklin, passionate entrepreneur extraordinaire.
There’s Bricklin meeting with Chery executives and sermonizing to them while jabbing his finger in the air (not considered by Sinologists as the best way to endear oneself to the Chinese).
There’s footage of Bricklin meeting with U.S. dealers, addressing dealers, hugging dealers and ceremonially signing pacts with dealers.
It started to look like one of those Red Chinese propaganda films. I was expecting a shot of the Forbidden City palace adorned with a blow-up poster of Bricklin under a proclamation, “Our Wise and Wonderful Leader.”
But that short video shown at the E.N.G. auto conference in Manhattan Beach, CA, is minor compared to what is in the works. Lambert says a full documentary is planned “on Malcolm, the man, the vision.” Maybe they can get Dreamworks studio to produce it.
Bricklin’s vision is to set up a world-class dealership network and supply them with gloriously equipped Chery cars of the same quality as Mercedes-Benz and Lexus, but costing 30% less. That would be a miracle.
Dealers who sign up must pay tithings to become equity partners with Visionary Vehicles. Using other people’s money always is a great way to bankroll a vision. But Lambert sees it as a terrific way for contributing dealers to feel connected.
“When dealers have skin in the game, they are more effective,” he says.
Perhaps, but it should make for some interesting dealer council meetings, says conference attendee Erin Touponse, director of development for the Harte Auto Group, a 9-store dealership collection based in Connecticut.
“You get all those dealers in a room, and there are going to be differences of
opinion, especially if they have equity in the company,” she says.
In other words, look out.
I envision Malcolm in the middle of a mob if there are hot issues on the agenda – and ultimately there are at dealer council meetings. It would be interesting to video record one of those sessions, even though Lambert insists, “Malcolm is very good at leading discussions with dealers.”
Lambert, whose conference appearance was recorded by a ubiquitous Visionary Vehicles cameraman, speaks of the firm as a brave new auto company, “opposed to the OEMs in their ivory towers.”
That was just about enough for conference audience member Christine MacKenzie, a marketing executive for DaimlerChrysler.
She rose and said she had a series of questions for Lambert. Fine with him. “If you ask enough questions, we’ll run out of time, and I won’t have to answer them,” he said.
Time didn’t run out for questions, but he didn’t answer all of them anyway. For instance:
Question: “How do you get around franchise laws?”
Answer: “I’m a marketing guy, so I’ll leave that to others.”
Question: “When will you sign a joint venture agreement (with Chery)?”
Answer: “That’s a legal issue. Hopefully soon.”
Lambert’s background is advertising. He first hooked up with Bricklin in the 1980s, when Lambert headed the ad agency of record for Bricklin’s Yugo America, which may have started as a vision but ended as a nightmare for anyone unfortunate enough to own one of its shoddy cars.
Meanwhile, Lambert is the lead producer for what is described as a Broadway-bound musical. It is called “The First Wives Club,” based on a movie. It has nothing to do with Bricklin, thank God.