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Bricklin’s Vision Much More Grand Than Geely

While Chinese automaker Geely has been seen at the Frankfurt Auto Show and the North American International Auto Show in Detroit, Chery has been notably absent from the big international auto show scene. Maybe Chery is more cautious with its image; waiting until it has its cars exactly right for the international auto show circuit.
But the contrast in United States distribution plans could not be more dramatic. Malcolm Bricklin is head of Visionary Vehicles the North American distributor of Chery Automobiles. John Harmer is Chief Operating Officer of Geely-USA. Malcolm Bricklin is no John Harmer and John Harmer is no Malcolm Bricklin. Bricklin’s high profile promotion of Visionary Vehicles and Chery Automobiles is night and day different from the low key approach being taken by Geely.
Where Geely would like to dip its toe in a Puerto Rico test market, Bricklin would love to be national immediately.

Visionary Vehicles’ Initial Financing Has Finally Come Through

Bricklin’s original intent was to have the initial investments by dealers in acquiring VV territories cover a substantial investment in a line of mid-size products from Chery. This did not pan out for Bricklin and he went to investment bankers to acquire the cash. You wonder what pound of flesh was required to pull that off, but that’s a story for his book someday.
In February, Bricklin landed $225 million in financing to invest with Chery for product development. Using this capital, Chery will develop the first line of vehicles for Visionary to sell in the USA. This $225 million buys Visionary 40% of the platform which will include a sedan, a sport coupe and a sport utility vehicle. Bricklin describes these vehicles as Audis for the price of Hondas. He wants high style, high quality, reliable cars that can compete head-to-head with the best the Japanese have to offer.

Chery Waffled as Recently as November… But Money Talks

It’s interesting that while Bricklin has these very laudable objectives, as recently as November 2005 Chery executives were quoted as saying they were not ready to tackle the US market and they would concentrate on Russia and Europe at first. With Bricklin waving a $225 million check in front of Chery, he now has his money where his mouth is.
If this investment ignites aggressive product development NOW, it is still questionable whether or not Bricklin can launch in the USA as early as 2007 with these uniquely developed cars. He might be able to launch before the end of 2007 if he accepts other cars under development by Chery (as he has alluded to in several interviews), but not with the Chery Audi competitors.
Bricklin’s early franchising plan included requiring dealers to build grandiose “auto show” dealerships as points of destination for families interested in buying a car. These multi-million dollar edifices were quickly quashed by the dealers and Bricklin wisely backed off. Visionary was to own a portion of each dealer and the dealers invested in Visionary Vehicles. That plan, too, has been diluted.
Geely – the Picture of Modesty – Cheap Car for Everyman
Geely’s plans to enter the market could not be more modest. John Harmer says that Geely will enter the USA in 2008 with an unpretentious everyman’s car. Their volume expectations are about 25,000 in the first year of the $7,500 product. Bricklin is 180-degrees away from what Geely wants to do. He wants to be selling at a rate of 250,000 units per year by the end of his first full year on the market. And the Visionary distributed vehicles will be in the $20,000 range – unless Bricklin’s dealers convince him to bring in a Geely competitor like the Chery QQ. Eeeeeeeeek!

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