The 65-year-old founder of Visionary Vehicles LLC has a contract withAutomobile Co. Ltd. of China to become the first importer and distributor of a lineup of Chinese-built vehicles in the U.S. starting in January 2007.
He vows to sell 250,000 vehicles the first year through a network of 250 dealerships, 500,000 the second year, 750,000 the third, and 1 million annually in the fourth year. He says he expects to have 1 million orders in hand before the first car is ever sold here. (See related story: Auto Entrepreneur to Import China’s Chery Vehicles to U.S.)
Bricklin founded Subaru of America Inc. in 1968 to import Japanese cars into the U.S., a venture that proved successful. But he is best remembered as the man who in the mid-1970s created the 2-seater Bricklin gull-wing sports car that failed after only about 2,600 were built.
Critics said the quality was so suspect drivers could see the pavement below with the door closed.
Bricklin then established Yugo America Inc. in 1985 to import a version of the Italianas a $3,995 new-car alternative to buying a used car.
That venture failed in 1992. The best thing that could be said of Yugo after its demise is that while produced, it took the onus off the Edsel as the name most associated with auto ventures gone sour.
In the mid-1990s, Bricklin also started a venture to sell battery-powered electric bikes, another operation that went bust.
"Some people think this venture (with) may be impossible because of my failures," Bricklin says in an interview at the Chicago Auto Show here.
"Yugo was my big failure. But when the jokes stopped, I had sold 50,000 Yugos a year for three years without an automatic transmission; dealers were getting $3,000 over list; the car never was recalled even though the quality was really crappy – and I made millions before it failed," he beams.
"Am I doing this to redeem myself? I've done nothing to redeem myself from. I'm doing this because it's the opportunity to do something perfect," he says.
Bricklin’s new venture will be similar to the Yugo philosophy. The vehicles from Chery will be priced at 30% below comparable rivals and carry a 10-year, 100,000-mile (160,000-km) warranty.
Bricklin insists he'll introduce one new vehicle every two months for three years, offerings that range from an entry-level sedan that starts at $6,900, to a performance sedan at $19,000 that will compete with a $30,000 (See related story: Bricklin: China’s Chery Taking Aim at Audi)3-Series.
And all will have "Lexus quality" he says, referring to the brand rated as having the best quality in the industry today. He also talks about coupes, convertibles, pickup trucks, electric hybrids and hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles.
"All I need now is 250 dealers, and I've already had 1,200 apply," he says.
Dealers will be required to put up about $15 million for a store, which he calls "auto shows," because each facility also will have to have a test track for customers to drive the vehicle.
And each dealer will be required to set up 10 to 20 satellite service facilities to do warranty and repair work. Bricklin says he expects dealers to reach a deal with nearby Sears or Wal-mart stores to help serve as those satellite repair shops.
What makes the plan a bit difficult for many to accept is that Chery only produced 91,000 vehicles two years ago and now has to come up with a host of new vehicles in less than two years and ensure they all meet U.S. safety and emissions regulations in that time span.
Chery, an independent, only began producing cars in 1997. It raised the ire ofCorp. last year when it sold a small car called the QQ that GM charged bore more than a striking resemblance to the Chevy Spark (Daewoo Matiz) it sells in China.
The QQ is so similar to the Chevy Spark, in fact, that GM Chairman and CEO Rick Wagoner joked that the body panels are interchangeable. GM filed suit to force Chery to stop selling the QQ. (See related story: GMDAT, Chery Legal Battle Could Enter U.S.)
Bricklin is quick to point out that the QQ isn't one of the cars he plans to sell here and shouldn't affect his plans.
And to soothe Wagoner, he brought a scale model replica of the QQ to present to Wagoner, who also attended the show here. But Wagoner left before the car could be presented.