The man who brought Subaru to America plans chain of car dealerships and art galleries

May 17, 2017

Five decades ago, a man by the name of Malcolm Bricklin brought Subaru to America. More than a few people thought the guy was crazy, including plenty of Subaru executives, but today, we realize that Bricklin was on to something big.*

That's not to say that Bricklin's instincts have always been good. Most famously, Bricklin was responsible for bringing the terrible, horrible, no-good, very-bad Yugo to the U.S. in the mid-1980s. And earlier in this century, he attempted to import cars from Chinese automaker, Chery, which was an utter disaster

Next big thing

But never fear: Bricklin is back, baby, and he wants to make auto sales fun again. His plan involves a new, three-wheeled electric car and a network of art galleries.

Wait, wait, hear the man out. 

The car in question is the Bricklin 3EV. As you can see here, it looks fairly cool, and according to Bricklin, it'll be priced at an even cooler $25,000.

Bricklin 3EV

Bricklin 3EV

Perhaps coolest of all, Bricklin doesn't want consumers to test drive the 3EV. Instead, he wants shoppers to step into showroom "pods" that offer a virtual experience of driving the car. (Think of it like an 80s-era arcade game, only instead of quarters, the machine takes $25,000 bills.)

To bring his plan to fruition, all Bricklin needs is a network of 100 dealers.

And the car, which won't be ready for two years. Or more.

Interested? You can get in on the ground floor for an investment of $2 million. For that modest sum, you'll receive stock in Bricklin's company and the right to sell the 3EV.

Oh, and one other thing: in addition to building a showroom for the 3EV (and all those pods, of course), you'll also need to build an art gallery.

Yes, an art gallery

After the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, Bricklin's wife took up painting. In the process, Bricklin gained an understanding of the fine art world and discovered what he calls inefficiencies in the industry. For example, because artwork is typically unique or produced in limited editions, it's difficult for consumers to find, and it's equally difficult for emerging artists to share their work with broad audiences. 

And so, each of the 100 dealers in Bricklin's network will manage an art gallery separate from their showrooms. The galleries will be connected virtually, so that shoppers can peruse not only the art at their physical location, but at the 99 other galleries in the network. He envisions pricing for each piece to start at $10,000 or more.

Our take

This is a crazy idea. But is it crazy-crazy, or crazy-like-a-fox?

On the one hand, the 3EV seems like it could work. It'll appeal to a limited market, to be sure--after all, (1) it's electric, (2) it's got three wheels, and (3) the design is pretty aggressive, to say the least. However, technical advances may address issue #1, and the 3EV's low target price could mitigate all three. 

We also appreciate the gimmick of blending an auto dealership with an art gallery. From Warby Parker to Tom's Shoes, mission-driven for-profit corporations are big business these days, and there's no sign of that trend slowing. Thanks in part to social media, consumers want to know what companies believe in, and yoking cars to art seems interesting at the least. 

However, we're not so sure that Bricklin has a solid understanding of the fine art world.

For starters, this is a really commercial plan, and many artists have strong aversions to over-commercializing their work. For example, Banksy--one of today's best-known artists--doesn't have gallery representation at all. True, Banksy is an extreme example, but Bricklin's scheme could strike many other artists as crossing a line. 

Also, fine art values depend on limited availability, in much the same way that the values of limited-edition cars do. Fine art photographs can be worth tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars when printed in small editions. Produce too many, though, and they become $25 posters suitable for dorm room walls. In other words, keeping a large inventory of art priced at $10,000 and up may be tricky. 

And last but not least, there's the question of gallery representation. Most artists who can command five-figure prices for their work are already committed to specific galleries or dealers. Finding thousands of them to join Bricklin's group could be tough.

If none of that has dissuaded you, by all means, send Bricklin a check for your $2 million today. One investor has already signed up--just 99 to go.

For more on this, check out our colleagues at Motor Authority.

* FWIW, while many major automakers' balance sheets are doused in red due to the slowdown in U.S. auto sales, Subaru is comfortably in the black--up 7.6 percent for the year.

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