Bricklin Hopes to Pave Way for Chinese Cars in U.S.

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A mural at Visionary Vehicles. Credit: Jack Speer, NPR. i

Murals of car concepts cover the walls at Visionary Vehicles' New York offices. Bricklin says his Chinese manufacturing partner can take his ideas and make them a drivable reality for Americans. Jack Speer, NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Jack Speer, NPR
A mural at Visionary Vehicles. Credit: Jack Speer, NPR.

Murals of car concepts cover the walls at Visionary Vehicles' New York offices. Bricklin says his Chinese manufacturing partner can take his ideas and make them a drivable reality for Americans.

Jack Speer, NPR
Malcom Bricklin. Credit: Jack Speer, NPR. i

Malcolm Bricklin has had his share of success -- and failure. He is best known for bringing Japan's Subaru brand to the United States in the 1960s. He followed that up in the 1980s with the introduction of the Yugo to the U.S. market. Jack Speer, NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Jack Speer, NPR
Malcom Bricklin. Credit: Jack Speer, NPR.

Malcolm Bricklin has had his share of success -- and failure. He is best known for bringing Japan's Subaru brand to the United States in the 1960s. He followed that up in the 1980s with the introduction of the Yugo to the U.S. market.

Jack Speer, NPR
A Chery-built convertible. Courtesy: Visionary Vehicles. i

A Chery-built convertible like this vehicle should cost about $25,000. But Bricklin says it will compete with cars costing much more. Courtesy: Visionary Vehicles hide caption

itoggle caption Courtesy: Visionary Vehicles
A Chery-built convertible. Courtesy: Visionary Vehicles.

A Chery-built convertible like this vehicle should cost about $25,000. But Bricklin says it will compete with cars costing much more.

Courtesy: Visionary Vehicles

In the automotive world, some names provoke an immediate reaction. One is Malcolm Bricklin, who helped bring the Subaru to the United States in the 1960s.

But he was also responsible for the less memorable introduction of the Yugo to American motorists. And in the 1970s, he briefly built a plastic-bodied sports car named after himself.

Now Bricklin is back, and he's hoping to be the first to bring Chinese-built cars into the United States. For a minimum investment of $2 million, Bricklin is offering dealers a chance to get in on the ground floor of his plan.

Bricklin says that after visiting plants in Eastern Europe and India, he stumbled upon a company called Chery in Wuhu, China. It was then that he knew he'd found what he was looking for: a company that could build cars to order.

Through his company, Visionary Vehicles, Bricklin signed a distribution deal with Chery, one of the largest state-owned car companies in China. He's ironing out the final details of a proposed joint-partnership that will make his company and a network of U.S. dealers part-owners in the Chinese factory.

One question hanging in the air is whether Chery needs someone like Malcolm Bricklin to help it enter the U.S. market. Other industry experts are skeptical about the timetable for bringing Chinese cars across the Pacific.

Originally, Bricklin had said that would happen next year. Now he's pushing the date back to 2008. Some doubt that cars from China will even arrive that soon; tough U.S. safety and emissions standards may delay Chery's entry into the American market.

Bricklin is certain that the Chinese are coming, and he thinks that their price advantage over competitors will ensure their success in the U.S. market.

Dealers aren't so sure and have been slow to sign on, with only 80 onboard so far. The slower-than-expected rollout of a dealership network has forced Bricklin to seek outside financing for his venture. An investment bank is putting up $200 million in exchange for an undisclosed stake in Visionary Vehicles, pending completion of the joint-venture deal with Chery.

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