Visionary Vehicles LLC, headed by entrepreneur Malcolm Bricklin, has hired Marianne McInerney to head its dealer development program, Ward’s has learned.

McInerney abruptly resigned from her post as president of the American International Automobile Dealers Assn. in March.

McInerney will “run the dealer development program, as well as other things,” a Visionary spokeswoman says, including some work that was being handled by the marketing department.

McInerney also is likely to assume some of the duties of a chief operating officer, the spokeswoman says. However, officially, the position remains open and has been since Pierre Gagnon left last summer, after just weeks at the helm.

Meanwhile, Visionary will deliver a cross/utility vehicle for certification testing to an independent firm in the U.S. in a matter of weeks, the spokeswoman says.

Visionary, which will market vehicles built by China’s Chery Automobile Co. Ltd., aims to begin U.S. sales in fourth-quarter 2007.

Visionary currently is narrowing down which firm will test the CUV and expects to make an announcement when the decision is made, the spokeswoman says.

“Counting backwards, we are still on track for late 2007, especially for the (CUV),” she says when asked whether the certification testing might set back the importer’s sales launch plans.

“Dennis Gore (Visionary chief engineer and president-research and development) is pretty conservative, and he still thinks we can come in on time,” she continues. “He says that could change if there is a glitch, but right now we are on schedule. The (CUV) is actually a bit ahead of schedule on the China side.”

Gore, who is based in Saline, MI, has a staff of 15 engineers and research and development personnel in the Detroit area, she says, and they spend about 50% of their time in Wuhu, China, where Chery is headquartered.

Expectations are the Detroit-area Visionary staffing levels will increase to 150 once the joint venture between the importer and Chery receives Chinese government approval.

Late last month, Visionary turned over $200 million to Chery, one tenet of the JV deal signed by the two parties in December 2004. Government approval, the second requirement, is expected to take 30-60 days from the day the funding was put in escrow, the spokeswoman says.

In February, Bricklin secured a $225 million cash infusion from Atlantic-Pacific Capital, as the amount he wanted his dealers to invest was reduced from the initial $10 million-plus per territory to $2 million and the pace at which he was signing the necessary 100 territories was too slow to meet Chery’s deadline.

Bricklin expects to have 100 of the 250 U.S. territories signed by the middle of next month, the spokeswoman says. She says it is difficult to quantify the number of dealers already signed, because some own multiple territories and other territories are owned by groups of investors.

“It’s wild, they have closings every day,” she says. “The big turnaround was when they announced the funding.”

In addition to the 15 employees in Michigan, Visionary has 27 people in its New York office, bringing total U.S. staffing to 42.

cschweinsberg@wardsauto.com