ALPHARETTA, Ga. — If Indian light trucks make it to the streets of America in 15 months or so, it will be because John Perez went through hell to get them.
Before he decided last year to import Indian vehicles, Perez spent 15 years trying to bring a Romanian SUV into the United States. And what did his automotive ambitions earn him? Lawsuits from dealers, $10 million of lost investments, accusations of criminal fraud, years of wrangling with the EPA, and what he believes was an attempt to poison him.
But now Perez expects to begin importing diesel pickups and SUVs in 2009 from Indian automaker Mahindra & Mahindra Ltd.
Perez is a former Atlanta Dodge-Chrysler dealer with family ties to Coca-Cola Co. To import and market those vehicles, he has formed a company called Global Vehicles USA Inc., based in Alpharetta, Ga.
So far, Perez has signed 288 retailers who have agreed to pay $125,000 to $150,000 per franchise (see story, next page).
By 2009, Perez says he and his investment group of 50 friends and family members will have spent $65 million to bring Mahindra to America. That's five times as much as they originally planned to invest.
The money is just one of many challenges. Mahindra plans to enter the United States just as tighter new EPA restrictions on diesel emissions take effect. To meet the new regulations by 2009, Global is relying on a team of Mahindra engineers in Michigan and India. Those engineers also are getting consulting support from German engine component supplier Robert Bosch GmbH and Austrian powertrain developer AVL Powertrain Engineering Inc.
No automaker has been approved on the new diesel guidelines yet. "We'll make it," Perez says in a deep Cuban voice with a trace of a Southern accent. "Our people tell me there will be no problem. We're doing a lot of work."
Arun Jaura, Mahindra's senior vice president in charge of r&d and global product development, says he is confident Mahindra and its team will get the vehicles approved for market.
Once that happens, Mahindra believes Perez's company will sell more than 50,000 vehicles a year in the United States.