Dealers who are enrolled in Malcolm Bricklin's plan to sell China-built vehicles in the United States by 2009 applaud the end of a joint venture between Bricklin's company and Chinese automaker Chery.
The dealers say Chery's vehicle designs were substandard. They say they want the vehicles to be made in China but designed and engineered in the United States.
Last month, Bricklin says, he broke off talks with Chery Automobile Co. on a joint venture to design, build and sell vehicles here.
"The advantage in working with the Chinese is in manufacturing, not design and engineering," says Tim Ciasulli, owner of Planet Honda in Union, N.J. "The Chinese have state-of-the-art facilities. Everything in China is new."
Bricklin's company, Visionary Vehicles LLC, says it has sold 28 dealers the rights to 50 U.S. sales territories for $2 million per territory. After the Chery breakup, Bricklin offered to give the dealers their money back, says Visionary Vehicles spokeswoman Wendi Friedman Tush.
No dealer has asked for a refund, Tush says.
Ciasulli says Bricklin involved the dealers in the decision to end negotiations with Chery. At best, he says, Chery's designs would have earned its vehicles two stars out of five in U.S. crash-test ratings. Such a safety standard might prove acceptable in China and perhaps Europe, Ciasulli says, but not in the United States.
Another Visionary Vehicles dealer, Dennis Reinbold, said it "makes a lot of sense" to design and engineer the vehicles in the United States. That would give Bricklin and his dealers more control over the final product, said Reinbold, president of Dreyer & Reinbold Inc. in Indianapolis.
"We are in this market," he told Automotive News. "We obviously have a pretty good feel for what consumers want here."
China also lacks the protection of intellectual property available in the United States, Reinbold said.
Other Visionary Vehicles dealers note that Chery executives have pursued joint ventures with other Western companies, notably DaimlerChrysler.
"They were not focused entirely on us," says Jamie Auffenberg, a multifranchise dealer in O'Fallon, Ill., and a former chairman of the American International Automobile Dealers Association.
"They were getting diverted from our agreement," Auffenberg says. "We can do the same thing and talk to other people, too."
Visionary Vehicles plans to update its dealers on talks with other potential Chinese partners on Thursday, Dec. 14, in New York. The company has said it intends to work with three Chinese automakers.
Dealer Ciasulli says Chery still may be one of those three. But he adds: "There are myriad Chinese manufacturers that can deliver."
You may e-mail Donna Harris at [email protected]