The Brilliance Auto Group is wending its way through North America regulatory processes as it seeks to become the first China-built vehicle lineup to go on sale in the U.S.
“We've signed up dealers representing more than 30 locations and are negotiating with dozens more,” says David Shelburg Sr., who at age 80 is known to hundreds of dealers after a long career of developing dealership organizations, such as Subaru and Kaiser-Frazer.
Shelburg's Auto-Kam Automotive Group, based in Scottsdale, AZ, is the franchisor and distributor of record for the Brilliance vehicle lineup in the U.S.
“We're going great guns among Saturn dealers,” Shelburg tells Ward's. “Saturn dealers are the cream of the crop, and when General Motors (Co.) cut them loose, our phone rang off the hook. The Brilliance lineup of premier cars and SUVs will make a great fit for Saturn.”
One of the first Saturn dealers to hook up with Brilliance is the Tom Kelley Group in Fort Wayne, IN., followed by Laird Mooney in San Diego and the Larry Miller organization in Salt Lake City. A Brilliance franchise requires a $35,000 down payment per store.
“These are charter dealers who are typical of the caliber of the Saturn dealer owners we are negotiating with,” Shelburg says. “We're promising to ship new cars for retail sale by mid-2010, depending on completion of the testing we're doing for the (U.S.) government.”
Several of the impending Brilliance retailers have agreed to put the brand on sale at their former Saturn locations.
“We also have quite a list of interested non-Saturn dealers,” says Shelburg. “Several have flown out here to check out the Brilliance cars we have been showing off in Phoenix.”
One interested party but not yet a franchise signer is Bert Boeckman, owner of Galpin Ford as well as Saturn and luxury stores in the San Fernando Valley north of Los Angeles.
Boeckman says he is waiting until closer to Brilliance's scheduled rollout in the U.S. before committing himself.
“China's turn at the U.S. market will come in a big way, sooner rather than later,” he says.
Meanwhile, Shelburg says, “We signed our first Toyota dealer in a Midwest city where he's Mr. Import.
“Toyota (Sales U.S.A. Inc.) tried like hell to warn him not to do it, but he told them he remembers Volkswagen (AG), GM, and Ford (Motor Co.) dictating against Toyota 40 years ago.”