Ask Jill Green about Malcolm Bricklin, and she says she's heard it all before.
Dealerships run by Green's family invested in two Bricklin projects: peddling EV Warrior electric bicycles in the mid-1990s and importing Yugo cars in the 1980s. The family lost money on both efforts, although Green says she can't estimate how much.
Green, a multifranchise dealer in Springfield, Ill., ruefully notes Bricklin's latest venture. He plans to import cars from China for sale in the United States, starting in 2007. He has yet to announce his first dealership affiliation.
"I won't be standing in line for that franchise," Green says.
Several dealers involved with Bricklin's past ventures say they are skeptical of his latest enterprise. Even those who came out ahead question the investment he seeks in fancy, exclusive dealerships for his company, Visionary Vehicles LLC.
Bricklin insists the Yugo venture was a success. He says some Yugo dealers sold the cars for $3,000 over the $3,900 sticker price.
"Any dealer who lost money on the Yugo was too dumb to breathe," he says.
At their peak, there were more than 400 Yugo dealerships in the United States. Mike Feder, president of Feder Auto Group in Middletown, N.Y., was one of the dealers. He attributes the franchise's problems in the United States to political upheaval in the former Yugoslavia, where the cars were built.
"My experiences with Bricklin's company were very, very good, very professional," Feder says. He calls the Yugo "a good little car."
Feder says he is interested in selling the Chinese cars, made by Chery Automobile Co., which Bricklin plans to import. But he would want to add the franchise to an established dealership. He would not build one of the $15 million stand-alone dealerships Bricklin has said he seeks.
Bricklin says he now will allow dealers to sell Chery vehicles in showrooms with other brands, at least temporarily.
"Dealers can put them in existing dealerships until the volume is up," he says. "The key is to make sure the quality is fabulous from day one."