Richard Cooper is holding a check for $50,000 that would reserve his spot for a new-car franchise. But the South Carolina Ford dealer is wary about putting that check in the mail.
An obscure Spanish factory wants to sell a virtually unknown, two-seat convertible sports car in the United States. Representatives of the company's New York office, Comarth America Inc., have solicited a few dealers around the country to sign on. The cost to play: two $50,000 deposits - the first one refundable if the dealer sees the car and changes his mind.
"We'd really like a new franchise here," says Cooper, whose Jones Ford Inc. of North Charleston, S.C., has been in business for three decades. "But something tells me this isn't the one."
The idea of getting in on the ground floor of a new franchise is a perennial dream for many auto retailers. In recent years, would-be U.S. distributors and importers have unsuccessfully floated plans to sell SUVs from China, sports cars from Brazil and various other vehicles from eastern Europe. The dream is that an unknown car today will become the BMW, Volkswagen or Kia of tomorrow.
According to Comarth, the plan is to sell a few hundred units a year of its Spanish-made XTamy in the United States. Automur Comarth, a small independent factory in Murcia, Spain, would export the vehicles through an independent Florida distributor.
Stephen Simon, president of Comarth America, declined to identify the Florida distributor. Pressed for information, Simon said he was not familiar with many of the car's technical details. He says the XTamy will contain a U.S.-made engine, but he does not know who makes it.
Comarth displayed the XTamy at the Paris auto show last October. Simon says the car is sold in Spain and other European countries.
But getting specific information has frustrated some potential U.S. retailers.
"I've asked everybody I can think of to ask if they've heard of the car," Cooper says. "My son is in the Navy, stationed in Spain, and he's never seen the car. If this is a specialty vehicle, it's so special that hardly anyone's seen it."