Thirty-six dealers have signed letters of intent for China's Brilliance new-car lineup, says U.S. distributor executive David Shelburg, Sr.

Shelburg says in an interview that Brilliance Auto is looking at a U.S. sales launch after 100 dealers have been signed up. U.S. It is the first Chinese brand to sign up dealers in the U.S.

Brilliance at the Detroit show exhibited four models: two sedans, a sports coupe and a hatchback. Designer consultants come from northern Italy, including Giugiaro and Pininfarina.

Shelburg, whose dealership-relations experience dates back to the 1950s with Kaiser-Frazer, Bricklin and Subaru, says the Brilliance line appeals to U.S. dealers because of the Chinese company's manufacturing partnership with BMW.

“When American dealers hear about BMW and take a good look at Brilliance vehicles, ‘they ask for letters of intent right away,” he says

Among Brilliance's charter dealers are Tom Kelley, whose 9-brand dealer group is based in Fort Wayne, IN; John Mandella, owner of the Capitola Auto Group based in Santa Cruz, CA; B.J. (Red) McCombs, Ford, Toyota and Lexus dealer headquartered in San Antonio, TX, and Laird Mooney, Saturn dealer in San Diego.

“The Brilliance products are upscale in every detail,” says Kelley, whose brands include Buick, Pontiac, GMC and Saturn.

Shelburg says it will cost about $95,000 for a dealer to start up with signs and tools for Brilliance, including a $25,000 fee for a letter of intent.

On Shelburg's ‘intender list’ are Roger Penske's public and private groups of dealers, including those in the United Kingdom; Bert Boeckmann's Galpin group in North Hills, CA; several stores in Des Moines, IA, and Detroit area and northern New Jersey locations.

“You might add nearly every Saturn or Hummer dealer, because those franchises are endangered species and they each have a new stand-alone store that would be available,” says Shelburg, 80, who adds that his new auto job “makes me young again.”