Plans by Malcolm Bricklin's Visionary Vehicles LLC to form a joint venture with China's Chery Automobile Co. Ltd are canceled, and he instead wants to contract production with three Chinese OEMs.
Auto entrepreneur Bricklin says he has had talks with a dozen Chinese auto makers and plans to meet with another 10 to realize his dream of selling Chinese-built vehicles in the U.S.
“We're only interested now in building up our own brand, with our own cars, with three manufacturers that will build them exactly the way we want them,” he tells Ward's.
While Bricklin says Chery, with which he first signed a pact in late 2004 to bring Chinese-built cars to the U.S., may be one of the three firms contracted by his Visionary operation, he is frank about his disappointment with the auto maker.
“Last May, I started to realize that to try to convey the information to the Chinese company on how to do all the things you have to do for the U.S. market, (the product) was being watered down,” he says. The cars that were to be available in 2007 “didn't even come close” to the quality levels Chery and Visionary originally set for imports to the U.S.
The need to make a late 2008 or early 2009 deadline for launching U.S. sales of the models also necessitated the move away from the original agreement with Chery, he says.
Bricklin says he now is seeking other design firms and engine and transmission providers to craft 15 different models, five each from three separate platforms.
Each of the three auto makers Visionary plans to contract to manufacture cars for the U.S. will be asked to build a plant dedicated to the Visionary models with annual capacity of 250,000-300,000 units, Bricklin says.
The platforms, one rear-wheel drive, one front-wheel drive and one all-wheel drive for SUVs and cross/utility vehicles, already exist, and Visionary owns them “100%,” he says. “The platforms are going to be the same; we won't have to start from scratch.”
Bricklin says he wants prototypes available for his dealers to drive within six months so they can provide feedback on any necessary modifications ahead of the late 2008 or early 2009 market entry.
“It's almost like a virtual company, what we're trying to put together,” Bricklin says, with manufacturing in China and “design and engineering in the Western part of the world, whether it be Italy or France or the U.S.”
Bricklin says Chery's recent ascendancy in the global automotive industry made negotiations difficult, drawing its attention away from Visionary and the tentative joint venture it was working to get the Chinese government to approve.
Bricklin says he needs Chery to “pay attention to exactly what we want.”
When he met with Chery officials in China last week during the Beijing auto show, Bricklin says they were receptive to his plans for Visionary to take responsibility for engineering and design of the vehicles.
Bricklin says Visionary also has met with a number of European importers that want to distribute Chinese cars, and one of them likely will become Visionary's partner.
The 29 dealers already signed are in agreement with the change of plans, Bricklin says.
“Before we went to China, we told them everything we were doing and we got a standing ovation,” he says. “They are very excited about us not putting our eggs in one basket.”
As for unveiling a concept vehicle at April's New York auto show, a Visionary spokeswoman says the company still aims to exhibit one of its own models.