It’s not surprising that Malcolm Bricklin was able to talk people into buying his brightly-colored plastic disco-era sports cars. It’s also not surprising that he managed to push poorly-built Czechoslovakian cars on an unsuspecting public. After hearing Malcolm Bricklin speak, I truly believe he could sell the preverbal refrigerator to an Eskimo. Compared to his past antics, Bricklin’s latest much-publicized project is a doozie. As head of Visionary Vehicles, he has signed a deal with Chery Motors to import and sell five new Chinese-made vehicles in North America starting in 2007, selling 2 million vehicles in the first two years. If General Motors isn’t happy about Chery stealing its Daewoo Spark, they should be surprised as Chery steals its thunder. Bricklin spent an hour and a half working an audience of members of the Society for Automotive Analysts at a recent breakfast meeting. And while the room may have been full of skeptics, I’m sure even Bricklin could have signed a few on as dealers after his performance.
I was certainly more impressed than the gentleman who was picketing outside the Westin Hotel in Southfield, Mich. This gentleman wasn’t happy about the prospect of someone selling Chinese cars in North America. I suppose he also doesn’t shop at Walmart, a company that buys $18 billion worth of Chinese goods each year. The ‘Made in China’ label has been on many of the goods sold in the U.S. for decades. It was only a matter of time before the Chinese made our cars too. Rather than spending the next 1,000 words reiterating what Bricklin said, I’ve decided to just print a transcript of his speech, edited for style and a G rating. Also, Bricklin is towing his twenty-something son Jonathan along to film a documentary of the history of Visionary Vehicles. This will hopefully save you from having to buy all of the installments when they come out on the Home Shopping Network.
Bricklin’s vision is to have dealerships that are modelled after auto shows.
“Today I have the pleasure of talking to you about common sense in the auto industry, something that’s not really that common. For the forty years I’ve been in the car business, as an importer and a manufacturer, I’ve found it very interesting that I could not affect things that made common sense. It seems that I was always arguing with my manufacturer about what colors I wanted, what kind of cars I wanted, and I was always getting, not abuse exactly, but they were fighting me on the orders that I wanted to give them. And I could never understand why, in the U.S. auto industry, the dealer and the manufacturer never liked each other, and the dealer and the customer never liked each other, and that was their business. It never made sense, and it never made sense that I couldn’t change it. And I always got frustrated. But this time, at an age when I should be fishing, and maybe that’s what I ought to be doing anyhow, I met a group of people in China, that seemed to have everything you’d ever want in the automobile industry, common sense. They don’t enough to make dumb mistakes. What an incredible opportunity.
But before I go really into all the details, my son Jonathan, who’s standing over there, I had the incredible opportunity to convince him to spend the next couple of years of his life following me around, and our company, every place we go, and we started in Poland. Actually we started in Serbia and went to Romania, but he started in Poland, filming every single important meeting that we have had in the last few years. That means with the attorneys, with the bankers, with Chery, with all the various companies we met, you name it. So we have archives of everything we said and how we did it. Because, one, we’re confident, and two, we believe what we’re doing is historic, we’ll be the first true company for the automotive industry in the twenty-first century. And one day, we’ll make it available as a documentary when we introduce a car. All of our attorneys, all our advisers said, ‘absolutely not!, you can not document that. Can you imagine what happens if you’re subpoenaed in court and you have these as proof that this is what you really said?’ Listen to this for common sense. I have been advised, by people who really care, not to document what we’re saying because people would find out the truth. And that’s exactly what I want them to subpoena, the truth. What better to have then the truth? So we did that. And we found a couple of things that happened.
Number one: we found that after every meeting, by condensing it and sending it to all the rest of the people who were involved in our company, they found out the truth of what really happened in that meeting — quite an interesting innovation. The second thing we found is that we could get people to join our company, because when we’d say, ‘This is what happened,’ they saw what happened. And were much more convinced to get involved early. That’s why we got people like Allen and Company, an investment banker working with Malcom Bricklin, before the contract was even signed. I never dreamt that that was possible. But it happened because we started right, doing things that we felt were right, and documenting them.”
Bricklin then ran a short ten-minute video that was presented to the first group of six Vision Vehicles’ dealers just last week. Strangely, it opened with the first few bars of the Rolling Stones “Monkey Man.” I’m not quite sure what that has to do with Bricklin or Chinese cars.
The PR-fest featured Visionary Vehicles execs and close supply-partners like engine designer AVL, a brief video tour of the Chery plant and a short take of Ron Harbour, who Bricklin has hired to make sure the assembly plants are up to Toyota standard. The video also featured a clip from Bricklin’s documentary where he’s sitting across the table, dishing out the truth to his Chinese cohorts.
“If they think that contract’s going to be broken by you, nobody’s going to make the investment. I will not do business with you unless you commit to me the same as I commit to you. I want you and I to need each other — to work with each other as partners. So we sign a contract that makes us both comfortable, that is strong enough that makes you know and I know that we’re committed. We are joined at the hip. If we do that, we can be the most dynamic force in the automobile business, if we can do that. And I believe we can do that.”
Bricklin’s says his cars are actually as much European as Chinese with designs coming from Pinninfarina and Bertone in Italy and engines designed by AVL in Austria. They are currently developing 1.6L and 2.0L four-cylinder engines, a 3.0L V-6 and a 4.0L V-8. Working under the marketing tag of “Redefining the price of luxury,” Visionary cars hope to compete with the likes of BMW, Jaguar, Mercedes Lexus and Audi with pricing from 30 to 40 percent below those brands. The development teams have been working long hours to make sure the “soul” of each Visionary vehicle imitates the “soul” of those fine European brands.
“Let me tell you how we got there (to Chery) I’ll dispel any rumors that I’m really a visionary and I really know what I’m doing. I went to Serbia. They asked me to come back because they wanted to give me the [Yugo] factory. And I brought Ron Harbour over to tell me how much it would cost to get the factory for free — $400 million. And after they had an assassination, and after they couldn’t have a re-election I said, ‘you know what, maybe I’m getting a little too old for this crap. Maybe I ought to do something a little bit easier this time.’
So I got really excited about the fact that there were empty factories all around the world, (well, maybe not empty, but running at near empty) that I could get for free. What a nice thing to build cars and get a factory for free. That’s a good idea. So I went to Romania to see a Daewoo factory that General Motors didn’t buy. A nice factory, Daewoo had just spent $800 million making it a very nice factory. But they had no infrastructure. So I went to Poland. And Poland had a really great factory, but we had a problem. We found that if you take over a factory for free and you have no product, what do you do with those people? You can’t put them in the refrigerator for a couple of years. So we called MG Rover to bring the MG Rover over to Poland to build but MG Rover may go out of business … and I said this is not for me.
I went to TATA in India, where I was really impressed. The Indians are coming [to North America] also. They’re not coming tomorrow though. They’ll probably come in four or five years. So from TATA, I went back to the United States and I started to put the pieces of the puzzle together, what it is I’m going to do. And a Russian came to see me and said, ‘You’ve got to go to China. I have just the company to introduce you to.’ And I said, ‘I don’t even know who you are, and I’m going to have you introduce me to a company in China. I don’t think so.’ He convinced me and I said, ‘okay, I’ll go do it, but it has to be right outside of Shanghai because I’m not getting on another plane, I’m not getting on another bus, I’m not going on another train for another five hours.’ Nope, it’s right outside of Shanghai.
Five hours and five trains, we’re in Wuhu.
So again, if I’d known the truth, I wouldn’t have been there. So now I get off the train in Wuhu, with my son Jonathan and the camera and a couple of our people. And I look around and I say to myself, ‘How do I have any idea where this company fits in with the 120 car companies that are in China?’ I’ll just check with these guys first, then I’ll do a little survey. I go in and I see the factory and I’m really impressed. And that night we have dinner with Mr. Yu. Mr. Yu is twenty-two years old, which puts him right in the middle of my son’s ages. And I have a list of what I’m going to tell him, exactly what he has to do to be a success in the automotive industry.
And I sat and listened to a man tell me how they decided to go to Pinninfarina and Bertone a year ago, how they’ve got 14 different designs in different categories, how they went to AVL and had them design 13 different combinations of engines. How they are going to Japan to deal with the interior situation and how they are only interested in export, and how they didn’t make a deal with any of the majors so they would be a national car company. And I looked at him after this meal and I said, ‘Well, I have exactly nothing to say.’ If you do exactly what you just told me, I’m going to be your partner. And the next day we signed a letter of intent, which I thought, ‘okay, it’s all over.’ And ten months later, of the most difficult negotiations I ever had in my entire life, on December 16 of last year  we signed a contract.
But during that negotiation, which I can’t tell you how unpleasant, that turned so pleasant afterwards, I said, ‘You know what? I’m going to go find another car company. Why am I just dealing with this? There are 120 other players.’ So I did some searching and here’s how the survey came out. One hundred of them are building between 100,000 and 200,000 cars. They’ll be consolidated or they’ll be gone. Then there are the major car companies. Those are the ones that are with General Motors and Ford and Volkswagen and BMW and with Honda and with Nissan and Toyota. They are the major car companies in China. What I found out is, most of those contracts say you can’t export. If they want to export, the first thing they have to do is build another factory. The second thing they have to do is start from scratch and design new cars. So I had actually, without any foresight, got the only company in China that can do the job. And is designated by the Chinese government to be an export company and is owned by the province that they’re in.
So the next thing I decided is, now that we have a contract and we have an incredible opportunity to bring in these cars, what is it we really want to do. Do we just want to bring the cars in, or do we want to make some major change in the car business, something I have spent millions of dollars on and years of my life trying to figure out. I said, ‘Let’s use this to make the next shift,’ and here’s where the common sense comes in. We have a great choice of models. We have a great choice of engines. We have people who work everyday to do the job, let’s start at the retail end and work up. What does a customer really want?
Well the first thing that I want is to go into a place to buy something where I really feel like I’m at home, where I really feel comfortable. So what part of the auto industry has that? It’s certainly not walking into a dealership. But it is certainly walking into the Detroit Auto Show. When I went to the auto show, it felt good. And when I went to the Chicago Auto Show, that felt good. And next week when I go to the New York Auto Show, I’m going to feel good. And everybody that goes in there feels good. They actually pay to see cars. I like that a lot.
So we’re going to have an auto show, not a dealership. In order to do that we hired [architects] and we sent them to the auto shows. Don’t you dare go to the dealership, you go over here to the auto shows and build me an auto show. And let me tell you what’s been changed in the process. And all we need to make that change is 250 dealers to say, ‘Yes, we buy into it.’ The first thing is, we don’t want you on dealer row, we want you outside. We want to make it a destination location. If you’re going to do that, we want [the customer] to call up and make an appointment.
Why? So we can treat them the way you should be treated. And for making that appointment, what we’ll give them is the following: Their car will be picked up by the valet. It will be taken and be washed. Yes, every time they come to us, they get their car washed. What does that mean? It means there are going to be some people who will come every day to get their car washed. If that’s the way you want to screw me in the car business, go ahead, I’ll wash you car everyday. Before they come, we ask if they have young kids and would they like us to entertain them and what ages are they. So when they come in there we have places to entertain the kids. Innovative things that are available to everybody, things to do with automobiles from the age of one to what ever age doesn’t want to go look at cars yet. And Mom and Dad are going to have the opportunity to have someone going around with them to tell them about what they see. Walk around a cavernous auto show with big screens here and big screens over there, just like you saw at the New York auto show — making entertainment with enjoyable things. And something to eat and drink, though we haven’t figured out what they are, but something sweet and something cool and something nice that you’ll remember.
So now you’ll have an entertaining time walking around looking and hearing about our cars. Because we believe, if we have beautiful designs, great interiors, excellent cars at 30 percent less, you do not have to sell them, all you have to do is tell them what it is we’re doing. Then comes the next step. I can’t remember how many times I’ve wanted to go to a dealership and drive two or three cars. And I can’t remember how many times I did not. Because when I got there, after the first drive I was embarrassed to ask for the second. They made it so not pleasant for me to ask to go drive cars that I didn’t. It’s a ridiculous situation, so I’m changing that.
The first thing we ask is how many cars, which cars do you want to drive. And when you walk out that door, we have people who do nothing but take you for a test drive on a test track that is fun to drive on and you and drive as many cars as you want. When you’re finished, you collect your kids and go outside where we’ve just given you that brand new washed car. Now that it’s all nice and clean, we’re going to hand you popcorn so you can mess it up really good. And take you out front to the 100 by 35 ft. sign, similar to what you have in Times Square, and put you in front where every half hour there’ll be special entertaining movies, commercials about the car, things going on in China, and you can sit there for a half hour, or two hours if you like, in the car with a little popcorn. And on your way out you’ll say, ‘Come on guys, let’s go next Saturday, let’s go next Tuesday we get the car washed, what a great thing.’ Instead of, ‘oh my god, that was horrible,’ you’re going to have the big smile that you get from an auto show.
I have come up with something better. And I’m going to come up with something that’s going to generate me a lot of sheer excitement that will bring people to my showroom so I can show them, not sell them. In order to do that, I’ve got to get dealers who are willing to commit to build a building away from dealer row and bring the cars from China that haven’t been brought in before and they have no idea if they’re going to sell. Well, every time I brought a car in it was exactly the opposite. Take this car to a Honda dealership. Do not build a dealership. That way the day you sell a car, you made money. It was an easy sell. That’s why I got a lot of dealers all the time to come in and be my dealers.
Now I’m doing the opposite. Fifteen million dollars would scare away just about anybody. I don’t want to talk to 20,000 people. I only want to talk to 250 people. That’s all I want to do is talk to the people whose gut says, ‘This is for me, I’m connected.’ d now, for the first time last week, we talked to dealers. And we told them what it is we have. And let’s see if it makes common sense. Suppose we don’t do it this way. Suppose we say to a Honda, General Motors, Ford or Toyota dealership, I give you my first car that comes out in January. Now of course, that first car comes with a great sports interior and a great luxury interior and it comes with a six-speed automatic or a standard transmission. And it comes with a 4-cylinder, 6-cylinder and 8-cylinder option. That’s my car. And you put it in your dealership.
Two months later, I come out with another car. Who’s going to kick you out first? Am I going to kick you out or is Honda going to kick you out because, sure you don’t have your own place now. And if you’re going to have to find a dealership, let’s build an auto show instead of a dealership. So we have something that really makes a difference in the car business. So, from the thousands of dealerships that sent in inquiries we talked to our first six last week and our first six said yes. a serious investment. Because one of the things we have an opportunity to do is Chery is letting us be an investor in their company. So we’re going to offer the incentive of a joint venture of the factory in China. So when a dealer invests with us he becomes an investor in Visionary Vehicles, the importer. He becomes an investor in Chery, the manufacturer. And, of course, since that’s not enough, I just had to push it a little bit more, I said I want 10 percent of everybody’s dealership in my company, so that every dealer owns a piece of every other dealership.
And as controversial as that may sound, what I got from the six that we talked to (and that certainly doesn’t make up them all) wow, that’s really interesting, let’s figure out how we can do it. And that was the key. How we can find, not my way or your way, but a third way that is better than my way, a third way that is our way. Not a compromise, but a better way. So I have finally put myself in a position by not saying no, I did say no actually, but I changed it to yes, and I kept saying yes until I got to be in a position where I could now go into the car business in a way, that one, makes me very proud – two, makes me very excited, and three, makes me so happy that I’d almost be willing to pay for my job. Now I still want to tell you stories about everything. But I think basically what might be the most interesting story is to answer any questions you may have.
Q. You talked about manufacturing cars in North America in the second year. Have you picked out any places to manufacture cars?
Bricklin: Here’s what the goals are. And they’re lofty goals. I’m dealing with Chery and I’m dealing with the Chinese government. They know how important introducing a car into the United States is. Back when Yugo was built in Yugoslavia and was, sad to say, not the most wonderful car you’ve ever seen in your entire life – a 30-year-old Fiat in a 50-year-old factory — and we introduced that into the United States. Before that the customers were Russia and Czechoslovakia.
When we introduced it, and because of the success of the Yugo in the first three years, 77 other countries started buying cars from the Yugo factory.
When we introduced the fact that Chery was bringing cars into the United States, they went from eighth place to third place in sales in China.
Now China understands what we’re doing and we understand the responsibility that we’re taking – introducing a car in the United States. So they want to do it all right. And the first thing they’ve done all right is they don’t want to scare the world that they’re coming in to own the car business. Because that’s, unbridled, I think they probably could.
So what our deal was simple. I said, ‘Why don’t we self-regulate what it is we’re doing so we avoid some of the pitfalls we could if we make too much noise too fast.’ The goal of Chery is to sell 2 million cars in the United States, exactly like Toyota. They’re after Toyota, that’s who their model is. They want to be number one in the world.
1 million cars in China. A quarter of a million the first year, 500,000 the second year, 750,000 the third year and a million the fourth year, with a new product every two to three months, starting in January ’07 for the next three years. They’ve committed to it. The designs started a year before I got there.
Everything we’re doing is going towards that end. But as we’re getting to the million, they’re coming to the United States to start looking, not to build another factory, which every auto manufacturer thinks they have to have. They believe that there are enough factories in the United States that are reasonably good that with some tweaking would be really nice to get for free. Free is such a nice way to amortize.
Q. Do you have any dealers in the Detroit area yet?
Bricklin: No. What we have is a couple of thousand dealers who have written in and said they want to pay. And we’re now starting to interview them to start appointing them. And they’ll all be appointed within the next 90 to 120 days.
The first thing we’re doing is fishing 25 dealers from that group to come in, what we’re calling ‘The Founder’s Roundtable.’ If we’re going to listen to the dealers, I can’t listen to 250. I just can’t deal with that everyday. But I can deal with 25. Were talking to them and they’re talking to us and when they agree that they’d like to go forward and when we agree that they’re for us, we’re taking that group to China so they can see everything we said. When they decide to go on, those will be the people who make all the determinations about what we do in the car business
Q. Looking at your dealer system, I noticed that it’s a mighty labor intensive system. You’ve got babysitters, people vending food and test drivers. Is there going to be enough profit in these vehicles to support that kind of system?
Bricklin: First of all, those people, we’re training them to be tellers, not sellers. So what we’ve done is change the sales strategy, I do not need salesmen. What we’re trying to do is come up with two things, one, what kind of training do you really need for the people and two, what kind of reimbursement do we give to everybody in the whole dealer group, meaning from the janitor, to the guy who actually closes the deal. How do we divide that up?
In order to do that you need money, so let’s talk money. The first thing we did is decide how much the dealer could make. No kickbacks, no holdbacks, we’re giving 15 percent off of retail to the dealers. So the dealers can start to earn money when selling their cars. We’re giving them a big enough area so what we don’t have is a Ford dealer selling against a Ford dealer and also against a Toyota dealer. Now what we have is a Visionary Vehicles dealer selling against himself. He’s not selling against competition. He’s selling against himself. He’s selling his own brand. So one, the prices he can keep without negotiating, first of all because they’ll be the lowest prices in town, second of all because he doesn’t have another guy across the street.
And we believe that 15 percent is going to be enough at the volumes we’re talking about to be one of the most profitable auto dealerships in history.
Q. You said how impressed you were walking the factory floor at Chery. What about Chery’s supply chain. What else do you see there in terms of ramping up for the volume as well as the kind of flexibility you’re talking about in powertrain?
Bricklin: Chery has gone out and paid money to be partners with a number of major suppliers, I think Dow Automotive is one of them they own a piece of, around the world, and they brought them into that area to be their backup. But there has been a lot of suppliers that came to Chery that are all majors there. And the supplier base is getting bigger and bigger.
One of the mandates that I got from Mr Yu, as I left the last time in January, he said to me, “If there’s any suppliers out there that need some help, and will look to have an investment and would like to be manufacturing in China, please Malcolm, ring us up.’
That’s the call. Anybody out there that’s looking to go to China that is a parts supplier and looking for a lower-cost manufacturing base – Chery’s out there with money from the government to help them bring them.
Q. Do you think about the quality that you anticipate from these vehicles given when Hyundai first came to the U.S. and the quality of its vehicles was somewhat questionable, I think a lot of people are worried about the quality of vehicles coming in from China.
Bricklin: If there’s any human being who has been faced with, what the penalty for substandard quality is, I’m standing right here. So number one, that is foremost in my mind in anything I’ve ever talked about in the car business. Chery has made a study of everything that’s ever happened in the car business. Quality is our number one concern. There’s been a lot of conversation about China not being ready. And those concerns come from most of the factions that are there that, one, can’t bring a car in from China and two, do not want a car brought in from China. But I’ll address that question and the General Motors and QQ at the same time.
There is a big fight between General Motors and Chery about them stealing the Spark from Daewoo and building the QQ, which they say is similar. Similar is a pleasant way of saying they copied the darn thing 100 percent.
Now, when I ask Chery, they say they bought the rights from Daewoo.
Both General Motors and Chery are selling cars in China built by Chinese workers, yet General Motors is selling it for $5,000 and Chery are selling theirs for $3,600 – same car. J.D Power reports, the first time J. D. Power went to China, just came out. If you look at it, you’ll see that QQ is number one in its segment and General Motors is not in the top three. Isn’t that interesting? Here’s a car that they’re building in China that they can compete at 30 percent less and its number one in J.D. Power.
When I went there and I saw the cars they are building today, if I brought those cars in today, and J.D. Power did a report, you would put them right in about the middle, without any changes right now.
Our mandate is we’re going after Lexus quality. That there’s no excuse, if we start with design and we pay attention to how they’re designed and how those designs affect manufacturing and we pay attention to the kind of manufacturing that Toyota has made itself famous for, and we go out and steal the quality people involved in Lexus and Toyota, which we are doing, by the way, then we believe we should be one two or three in the quality report, no excuse, from the beginning. That’s what we’re shooting for and that’s what we’re going to have.
Q. Do you have a specific geographic roll-out for the dealers or does it depend on any differences, and second, are you looking at hybrids?
Bricklin: Here’s what’s truly going to happen. The 250 dealers will be signed up all around the country. What we’ve done is we’ve mapped out five hundred locations in the country and we’re only going to give out 250. And we’re going to keep it there, hopefully for the whole run. 250 dealers, and they will be all over the place. The problem that I have, that I can not figure out, is how in the heck do I get 250 dealers to buy land, get the permits and get the building built in two years. That one I don’t know how to do. So I conceded failure. I will not be able to get 250 places up. So the dealers that are up first, get the first cars.
The second thing is that we are working on some temporary facilities that are attractive enough — that we can put up fast enough, through the zoning boards, so that we can start selling at almost all of the dealers in the first period.
Another part that would make very good common sense (everybody said the dealers would never go for it. But the dealers that we talked to last week all said, “Yes, we’ll go for it.”). If I only open up 250 dealers, I believe that is enough locations for people to go and buy. Because the combination of the internet and going to a really attractive event, I think going to buy a car is an eventful enough situation that you’ll go and see it.
But when it comes to service, I hate going out of my way for service. I want to go next door, I want to drop it off when I want to, which is always the days when the dealerships are closed. So we have made it mandatory that every dealer along with us has to pick 10 service locations in there area, from Walmart and Pep Boys and Sears and various places that have people that we are willing to train. So that they have 10 places they can go for service that will honor the warranty. What that will mean to the customer, who is our primary concern right now, is 2,500 places to get service — some that are open seven days a week. Some that are open actually at times that people can go.
Q. What about hybrids?
Bricklin. We know where the world is going. It has to go to clean. China happens to know that more than we do. They finally woke up and realized one day, 50 million new cars a year are going to be sold in China. They have 1,300,000,000 people. Ten years ago they didn’t have very many roads, but 10 years from now, they’re going to have more roads than we have in the United States. I have watched spaces that I drove on in April of last year that were only dirt, now they’re four or eight lane highways. They don’t go up slowly, they put everybody on it and, wham, they go up. They know there are going to be a lot of cars, so they’re paying attention to clean.
He is joining our organization. He is brining with him the man who runs the world bank of China. And his sole job as Chairman of our Technology Board of Advisors is to bring the best technology to China for the cleanest cars that can be built anywhere in the world. To that end, they have been working on a hybrid with varying engineering firms around the world. And they will introduce the first hybrid in China in ’06. And that by ’08 we can have one good enough with enough capacity, or battery, controllers, motors being built in China to introduce to the United States. It is our goal to be the first company to be 100 percent clean, or hybrid, They’re also working on fuel cells, which unfortunately, that ain’t happening. It would be nice if it is, but hybrid is where we are going.
Q. You spoke a lot about the retail experience, telling the customer instead of selling them. Does that include the no haggle one price?
Bricklin, Yes, absolutely. In fact Pierre Gagnon, who we got from Mitsubishi, before that was with Saturn. So he understood … look at what we had, we had General Motors who thought it would be a really great idea to change the way cars were sold. They spent a lot of money doing it and they succeeded. I remember people who were friends of mine buying a Saturn and coming back with this wonderful feeling of attachment to the company. That was unbelievable
Saturn only forgot one thing. You’ve got to have a product. If they’d taken the next step and added a product to it, I think Saturn would be one of our great success stories today. But what happens is you see an example of why common sense doesn’t rule in Detroit or anyplace else in the automobile world. And if there is something that we’re going to do that is going to make a change in this industry, if there is advice I have for this industry, it’s go back to common sense, because common sense will save the day.
Q. You mentioned in your presentation that the vehicles of Chery are European models and the designs have been done in Europe. Can you go into a bit more detail on how that’s going to work?
Bricklin answered that question by pulling out photos of clay models, prototypes and drawings of Chery’s entire line-up, waving the small 8 x 10-in. pictures in front of the room.
“We are not building a car, we are building a car with a soul. And we’re stealing that soul from Jaguar, BMW, Mercedes and Audi.”
Here’s a list of the vehicles shown:
An entry-level car that falls between the Smart and the Mini with a turbo four-cylinder engine that will sell for about $12,000
A mid-size car that falls right between the BMW 3 and 5-Series, will have an incredible interior, a choice of V-6 or V-8 engine and sell for $19,000.
A crossover, that was introduced at the Bejing auto show is a seven passenger, 4WD, V-6 or V-8 engine that will sell for $19,000.
A small SUV which looks very Japanese, that will seat five and come with both V-6 and V-8 options for $14,000.
A Bertone-designed, very Alfa-looking two-seat sports car features a hard-top convertible courtesy of OaSys, the joint venture between Pinninfarina and Webasto that just became its own company. It will sell for $15,000.
A large sedan done by Bertone will compete with the BMW 6-Series. It will have a V-8 engine, incredible interior and will sell for $25,000.
Two future hybrid vehicles. One vehicle is a four passenger hard-top convertible that will go from zero to 60 in under five seconds and get 60 mpg. It will sell for under $25,000. A pickup version, built on the same platform and sharing front sheet metal will also sell for under $25,000.
Bricklin: I don’t know about a worse-case scenario. My mind doesn’t even work that way. We’re gearing to sell 250,000 cars in the first year. In order to do that, it’s not just that the factory has to build them. I have to ship them. Believe it or not, those people don’t pay attention to the fact that I have to ship cars. You have to get them to the port of Wuhu, which is only a couple of miles from their factory. And that port has to be really designed well so you don’t get any scratches or dirt.
Then you have to put them on barges that only carry 1,000 cars, down the river to Shanghai. And you get to Shanghai, which is getting to be one of the busiest ports in the world, so we’ve already talked to the government, and downriver we can have another port which we’re going to make into an auto place where we’re going to have the space to store 20,000 to 30,000 cars so you can put them on ships and bring them across to the west coast first and ship them inland because it takes an extra 7 days to come over to the east coast and there’s a shortage of ships for car carriers.
When you say what’s the worst thing that will happen. What will happen if the quality isn’t on the top rung and we have to slow the plant down, we’re going to slow that down. And whatever will happen in the first year will happen. But by that time we’d better be in the range of a half-million by the second year or I’m going to go kill some people.
Q. What’s your plan for Europe?
Bricklin: My first plan for Europe is to try and keep them from going right now because it is so much to bite off, to be in both places is really pushing it. So what were doing is trying to convince them to put all of their eggs in one basket. And we’re just about there.
Let’s come to the United States, let’s establish it. Lets do it right and then we’ll go to Europe. They’re talking with a couple of plants that they were going to give to me for free in Romania and Poland to see if there’s a deal to be made and give them the plants and build some of the vehicles that are going to Europe, in Europe.”