The recent announcement Malcolm Bricklin’s Visionary Vehicles LLC had secured $225 million in funding has heightened dealer interest in selling the nascent importer’s Chinese-built cars, a spokeswoman says.

Bricklin, who aims to launch U.S. sales of Chery Automobile Co. Ltd. vehicles in fall 2007, says he has signed a $225 million funding agreement with Atlantic-Pacific Capital, allowing for his joint venture with Chery to move forward.

A Visionary spokeswoman tells Ward’s the financial pipeline has increased dealer interest in the auto maker “by a mile.”

Bricklin’s original dealership design concept.

“One of (Visionary’s) new salesmen was supposed to meet two dealers in the lobby of the Peabody hotel (in Orlando, FL, site of last week’s National Automobile Dealers Assn. convention) and 40 dealers showed up,” she says. “This announcement opened up a floodgate of both people who decided to schedule their closings and new people who came to the fold.”

By the end of this week, between 70 and 75 dealers will have closed on a franchise agreement with Visionary, she says. Some 200 dealers currently are said to be going through the “due diligence pipeline.”

Bricklin wants to have 250 U.S. dealers at launch. (See related story: Visionary Builds Dealer Base )

Of the dealers already signed, about 25% are tackling zoning issues and making changes to existing facilities, the spokeswoman says.

Visionary’s dealer board, headed by New Jersey Honda dealer Tim Ciasulli, is working to establish facility requirements, which should be set in the next 60 days, she says.

“So a large number, about 50% of the dealers, are waiting to hear what those (requirements) are before they make a move,” she adds.

Bricklin originally called for grand, standalone facilities, which included test tracks and video walls, and wanted dealers to invest upward of $10 million.

He later backed off on those requirements, saying Visionary dealers could sell vehicles out of existing buildings and invest just $2 million. (See related story: Bricklin Says Some Dealers Can Use Own Facilities)

cschweinsberg@wardsauto.com