East European Imports Inc., a would-be importer of the Aro sport-utility from Romania, has quietly closed its doors.
'It's too bad; they had a hard road,' said Ray Carter Jr., a dealer in Jacksonville, Fla., who had signed up for an Aro franchise.
East European claimed 170 U.S. dealers, but it had signed up many more than that over the past four years. Many dealers had dropped the franchise and demanded their money back.
Most dealers put down a minimum deposit of $30,000. An approved franchise cost twice that amount, plus signs and parts. A few dealers reported that they got deposits refunded, but many more did not.
East European was the latest in a series of U.S. companies that have tried unsuccessfully to import the Aro since the late 1980s. The Miami company went into business in 1995, promising to deliver vehicles by the end of that year. They never materialized.
John Perez, president of East European, notified dealers in a letter dated June 28, that East European offices were closed effective June 25.
In the letter, Perez said East European had placed orders with the factory backed by letters of credit, but the factory never delivered the vehicles, due to what Perez called 'a combination of governmental interference, management and financial reasons.'
Perez said he even tried to buy a controlling interest in the factory, but that effort also failed. 'Accordingly, the board and shareholders of EEI have decided there is no alternative but to discontinue the Aro project and liquidate the company,' he said in the letter. Perez could not be reached for comment. Calls to his attorney last Friday, Aug. 6, were not returned. The number to East European headquarters has been disconnected.
Mitch Hymowitz, CFO for Worldwide Equipment Corp. in Ardsley N.Y., which bought a 40 percent stake in East European a year ago, confirmed that Aro had been liquidated.