John Perez's plan to find an undiscovered global automaker and deliver it to the United States burst into flames -- just when it was a whisker away from success. In August, after four years of waiting for Indian truckmaker Mahindra & Mahindra Ltd. to get its compact diesel pickup certified for U.S. sales, Perez found himself ousted from the distribution deal he created.
Six days later, Mahindra said it had won approval from regulators in Washington to go ahead with U.S. sales of the pickup.
After quarreling for a year with Perez over his finances and marketing plans, the Indian manufacturer informed the world in a terse, unilateral announcement in August that its contract with Perez's company, Global Vehicles USA Inc., had expired.
Perez had already sued Mahindra in the United States and filed for arbitration in England by then. Most recently, Perez sent Mahindra an order for pickups -- which Mahindra rejected.
"I believe that, legally, I'm still their U.S. distributor," Perez says stoically in his deep baritone voice. "And I want trucks delivered to our dealers."
That question will be decided in court. But the story of how the plan to sell Indian pickups in the United States hit the skids is one of broken trust, fights over money -- and 347 dealers potentially left out in the cold.
Mahindra says the dealers that Perez recruited to his distributorship have no valid franchise agreement. The automaker says it will consider granting franchises to the dealers, who paid Perez up to $200,000, but is not obligated to do so. One lawyer for dealers says they may wind up suing Perez, even as he fights to keep his company -- and their franchises -- alive.
For Perez, a 63-year-old Cuban-American businessman from Atlanta, it was the second time such a deal has imploded. For more than a decade, he tried and failed to import a Romanian SUV called the Aro and later renamed the Cross Lander.
The soured relationship with Mahindra is in court in two countries. In June, before Mahindra declared the contract expired, Perez requested arbitration in London, as the contract requires, to force Mahindra to drop financial demands it was making. He then sued in U.S. District Court in Atlanta, asking a U.S. judge to force Mahindra to do business with Global Vehicles and its dealers.