2005 Chicago Auto Show Index by TCC
Perennial automotive entrepreneur Malcolm Bricklin is back, and after months of rumors, he outlined for TheCarConnection.com an unexpectedly aggressive plan to market at least one million Chinese automotive imports in the U.S. — and to sell another one million Chery-branded products that would be produced in the States.
Where initial reports suggested Bricklin would focus on Chery’s QQ minicar, the one-time importer of Yugos and Subarus told TCC he’s looking at a wide range of vehicles, including a sporty competitors for the BMW 3-Series. The move would potentially broaden the new brand’s appeal — and avoiding a potential legal battle with automotive giant, General Motors.
Within seven years, said the long-time industry executive, his new import company hopes to be selling a million Chinese-made cars annually in the
Bricklin earned his spurs — and a sizable fortune — 37 years ago, when he began importing cars built by
One critical lesson: their firm, New York-based Visionary Vehicles, will not focus on the absolute bottom of the new car market, like Yugo did. If anything, the first product to reach market may very well be aimed at the 3-Series, Bricklin suggested, but with a price tag of “under $20,000.” In all, the two executives noted they currently have 14 different possible models under preliminary development. If initial plans hold true, Bricklin would like to have a full range of powertrains, including four-, six-, and eight-cylinder engines, and even hybrid-electric drives, for each model in the lineup.
That sort of program would strain the resources of even the biggest automaker, never mind a fledgling Chinese manufacturer with little experience building modern cars. But together, Bricklin and Chery have enlisted assistance from major players in the global auto industry. Italian design houses Pininfarina and Bertone are both involved, as are major suppliers, such as
Chery’s products will be specifically designed for
Stand-alones and Wal-Mart
Sidestepping that confrontation, Bricklin admits there are still plenty of other challenges to get his Chery lineup ready, so a projected U.S. launch in early 2007 is tenuous, at best. Even so, he’s planning to make fast to get things ready. More than 1200 potential dealers have already contacted Visionary Vehicles, and by March, the firm intends to begin franchising what will shortly grow into a distribution network of about 250 retailers. Many dealers will likely operate numerous showrooms, and Bricklin wants to have satellite service centers set up alongside, or even within, the confines of major retailers, like Wal-Mart. Successful dealer candidates will ultimately need to be looking at investments of around $15 million.
For that money, Bricklin said he expects each dealer to turn around 4000 cars annually, which would make the new franchise one of the most successful in the industry on a per-store basis. It would also add up to a lot of cars. Right out of the box, Bricklin insists he can move 250,000 cars a year, and the goal is to hit 1 million by the seventh year in the
That might pose problems, considering
Chery is something of an anomaly among Chinese automakers. While there are, by various estimates, more than 200 car companies in the country, only a handful are serious players expected to last long-term. Even though sales have mushroomed —
But according to Bricklin, the Chinese maker sees that as an asset, forming foreign affiliations only when needed. Using those ties, and with the help of regional distributors, like Bricklin, “they want to be the number one car company in the world. And they know to do that, they have to be better than
It’s a tall order, and one prompting plenty of skepticism. “It sounds like a stretch to me,” says GM CEO Rick Wagoner. He says he’d be surprised to see any Chinese company make real inroads into the