FREDERICKSBURG, Va. - John DeLorean's dream of selling a new breed of car to Americans hit the skids in 1982, and since then few independents have dared to compete with the Big 3.
But a former real-estate developer with no experience in the car business is building an all-aluminum sport-utility and plans to start selling it in the United States next year.
The Stinger is being sold first in Caribbean resort areas, where its nearly rustproof body will be a major asset, entrepreneur Ken Warnes said.
Warnes, 53, quit his business building West Coast luxury condos to open Warnes International Vehicles Inc. in 1994. He has 16 employees.
Warnes picked as his improbable headquarters a renovated 18th-century building in this city of 20,000 people nearly 600 miles from Detroit.
'We don't want to be where the other guys are, because we're not like the other guys,' Warnes said.
Fredericksburg offers cheap office and research space a short ride to Washington, about 50 miles away, where the company is working closely with federal environmental and safety officials, Warnes said.
The headquarters also is close to aluminum supplier Reynolds Metals Inc. in Richmond.
WEEKEND FUN MACHINE
The truck - available in red, blue, white, yellow and green - is designed as a weekend fun machine with a built-in roll bar, four-wheel drive and an onboard inflator for beach toys or bicycle tires.
Each vehicle comes with a detachable hard top as well as a soft fabric top.
It comes with a standard 1.3-liter four-cylinder engine, and Warnes claims it has a top track speed of 110 mph. It gets 50 mpg on gasoline, Warnes said, adding that a diesel model also is planned.
Warnes plans to market the vehicle in the United States for $16,000 to $22,000, depending on the model and extras such as leather seats and air conditioning.
Warnes said he has sold 300 Stingers so far to car rental outlets in Barbados, Aruba, Antigua and other islands.
The first Stingers are being assembled in Puerto Rico, and will be delivered in July.
The first U.S. sales will probably be in Florida. Warnes is coy about where and when the Stinger will make its U.S. debut.
The Stinger faces the same problems that were prohibitive for DeLorean and other innovators, said Michael Marsden, an automotive historian at Northern Michigan University in Marquette, Mich. In addition to the high cost of developing a new car, the logistical hassles can be overwhelming, he said.
'The car business is a lot like the film business. Anyone can make a car; anyone can make a film. The problem is, how do you distribute it?' Marsden said.
DeLorean was a General Motors executive until 1973, when he left to open his own company that built the $25,000 stainless-steel DeLorean sports car.
DeLorean's company collapsed in 1982 after problems with shipping the cars from the plant in Northern Ireland, cash-flow issues, and finally, DeLorean's arrest in Los Angeles on drug charges. He was later acquitted.
Warnes said he will handle distribution in-house. Cars will be built on an order-only basis at dedicated 'Stinger centers' in each state, he said. He hopes to sell up to 20,000 cars in 1998, with an eventual goal of 40,000 to 50,000 annually.
It's ambitious. DeLorean's company went out of business having made only 8,583 cars.