Jan 9, 2007 (From the CalCars-News archive)
Malcolm Bricklin is a wild card, a high-flyer and a crash-lander. Now his vision is about PHEVs. The stories from USA Today and Reuters give the facts -- and say he's already working on prototypes for a series PHEV that could cost $25-$30K. The flamboyant story by Washington Post's Warren Brown, who's seen everything, says Bricklin plans to talk to Carroll Shelby and Lee Iacocca about all this. And Brown cites speculation that Ford and Toyota may be talking with each other about PHEVs.
AUTOSHOW - Bricklin says he's talking to 15 Chinese carmakers Mon Jan 8, 2007 7:10 AM IST16
By James B. Kelleher
DETROIT (Reuters) - Malcolm Bricklin, the maverick entrepreneur whose efforts to import the first Chinese-made car to the United States have suffered repeated delays, said on Sunday he is talking with 15 new potential partners in China.
In an interview during the North American International International Auto Show, Bricklin also said he still has more than $50 million in deposits from would-be dealers who had signed up for his earlier efforts to bring in a Chinese car.
On Sunday he said that the import, now be targeted to be in U.S. showrooms by 2009, would be powered by an electric hybrid plug-in engine, a change that contributed to the recent split with his original Chinese partner, Chery Automobile Co.
Bricklin said the powerplant would be similar to the one General Motors Corp. used in a concept car it unveiled on Sunday, the Volt, which is designed to use little or no gasoline.
GM said the Volt will draw power exclusively from a next-generation battery pack recharged by a small onboard engine -- if the technology is ready in two or three years.
"That's the way we're going," Bricklin said. "They have a engine bigger than we want....We can have a little engine, a little engine, that runs at one constant RPM and does nothing more than fill the battery up full time along with regenerative braking and you can get 100 to 150 miles a gallon."
Bricklin said his company, Visionary Vehicles, was talking to 15 Chinese manufacturers "to make sure that we're going to end up with three that we like."
He said a working proof of concept would be built in six months and that the cars would be in production by 2009.
"We're starting to build the prototype," he said.
Bricklin said he still had $2 million deposits each from 27 interested dealers. But he said he had returned $200 million he'd raised from George Soros after the Chery deal collapsed.
"They're guys who want to something for the family, the next generation," Bricklin said of the dealers. "They're scared to death of the car business as it stands today. They know there's going to be a big deal in clean and a big deal in economy. And they just know that's going to drive the market for the next generation."
Bricklin grabbed headlines with plans to bring Chinese-made cars to the U.S. market. But his venture has faced repeated delays and deep-seated skepticism from industry analysts.
In September, Bricklin, best known for bringing the low-cost Yugo car to America, said his ambitious plans to import a range of Chinese-made vehicles had been delayed until the end of 2008 at the earliest.
This fall, Bricklin said he had signed 50 dealers to sell the Chery-made vehicles, which he has pitched as a lower cost alternative to luxury brands such as BMW, Audi and Mercedes.
On Sunday, Bricklin said the first Chinese-made car he will introduce to the United States would be in the same category as a Mercedes E-Class but sell for $15,000 to $25,000 less.
100-mpg hybrid by 2009, Bricklin promises Posted 1/8/2007 More By James R. Healey, USA TODAY
DETROIT - Indefatigable auto entrepreneur Malcolm Bricklin, no longer planning to import Chinese-made cars to the U.S., now says he wants to market a line of 100-mpg plug-in hybrid vehicles that he says could be priced 20% to 30% less than gasoline-engine vehicles.
If he's successful developing such vehicles, his market timing could be just right. Americans have accepted hybrids such as the Toyota Prius for their fuel savings and their high-tech panache. Plug-in hybrids, which can recharge from an electrical outlet and thus travel farther without using gasoline power, are the latest wrinkle. General Motors and Ford Motor both showed plug-in hybrid concept cars Sunday at the North American International Auto Show here.
Bricklin says he's in talks with 15 Chinese manufacturers about building the cars in China to take advantage of low wages and modern equipment. "Use the Chinese advantage to make it cheaper" he says, "instead of it being $3,000 more." The prototype, he says, is being built in the U.S. "We'll show it to them, say, 'Here's our car; what can you build it for?'"
He figures six months to finish a working prototype and two years, more or less, for regular-production models to hit showrooms here.
"Mid-2009; if I'm wrong, it'd be late '09." Bricklin says. They would be sold by 28 U.S. dealers who had signed to sell Chery (CHAIR-ee) vehicles and who make up his distribution network called Visionary Vehicles.
Chery late last year signed a letter of intent to make small cars for DaimlerChrysler that would be sold worldwide.
Chrysler Group CEO Tom LaSorda says the agreement with Chery has yet to be approved by both the DaimlerChrysler and the Chery board of directors. He said it?s unclear when Chery could start providing cars for DaimlerChrysler to sell.
Bricklin's financing for the Chery venture was uncertain, causing the Chinese maker to waver. Unable to raise $200 million from prospective dealers, Bricklin eventually - about a year ago - got Atlantic-Pacific Investment to agree to provide $225 million. Financier George Soros put up the money, but that wasn't public at the time.
Now that Chery has signed with DaimlerChrysler and Bricklin's deal is dead, he says he'll raise the $200 million from dealers and from "private investors who are increasing their stake (in Visionary Vehicles). It's not coming from Soros."
As envisioned, the hybrids would run mainly on lithium-ion batteries - considered the latest technology for hybrid cars but still unproven. The batteries would be recharged by plugging the car into a power outlet, and by a small on-board gasoline engine that would recharge the batteries, but not power the car.
General Motors announced similar technology for its Chevrolet Volt, the concept car introduced at the auto show Sunday. One important difference: The Volt's gasoline engine would help power the vehicle, if necessary.
CHEVROLET VOLT: Concept offers 150 mpg, but the plug-in hybrid needs a new technology
GM Vice President Jon Lauckner says the chemistry inside lithium-ion batteries works well in individual cells. "But putting 100 to 200 cells together (in a vehicle-size power pack), getting them to charge and discharge evenly, and manage the (heat) load" remains a challenge.
Bricklin says his first model would be a midsize four-door sedan priced $25,000 to $35,000. A crossover SUV and a folding-hardtop convertible would follow, he says.
Bricklin is known for bringing Subaru and the less-successful Yugo brand to the U.S. and for a namesake sports car.
A Visionary Plugs In to the Electric Car Race
By Warren Brown
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, January 9, 2007; D03
DETROIT -- To say the least, Malcolm Bricklin, chairman and chief executive of Visionary Vehicles, is tenacious.
Bricklin brought Subaru, the gull-winged Bricklin SV-1 and Yugo automobiles to North America from the late 1960s through the early 1980s.
Some of his ventures, such as that with Subaru, were bona fide successes. Others, such as that with the Bricklin SV-1 and the ill-fated Yugo, were dismal failures.
Now, from all public appearances, Bricklin seems to have experienced another embarrassing flop -- the termination of his two-year campaign to bring affordable, high-mileage cars into the United States from Chery Automobile of Wuhu City in China's Anhui province.
Chery, instead, has chosen to enter the U.S. market by supplying small cars to DaimlerChysler's Chrysler Group, which desperately needs economical, fuel-efficient automobiles to help stem the loss of buyers to Asian rivals in an era of rising fuel prices.
Bricklin, clad in his trademark black clothing, said in an interview here at the North American International Auto Show that he is undaunted by Chery's decision.
"God bless them," he said of the decision by Chery's executives. "It's not the way they wanted to come into the United States. They would have preferred coming in under their own brand name. But it has to be good for Chrysler."
Bricklin's New York company has turned its attention to the seemingly impossible task of beating giants such as General Motors and Toyota in the race to market plug-in electric cars.
GM's Chevrolet Division on Sunday presented a prototype of a plug-in electric model, the Chevrolet Volt, to the international media in Detroit. GM's chief domestic rival, Ford, had a huge prototypical display of what it calls its "HySeries Drive" technology, which features a plug-in electric, hydrogen fuel cell that can power a car 25 miles at speeds of up to 85 miles per hour on a fully charged lithium-ion battery and then go another 200 miles on electric power generated by a small gasoline engine.
Ford and Toyota officials have been meeting in Japan on an unspecified project. There is speculation in the global auto industry that the two companies might be working on a deal for plug-in electric cars.
But GM and Ford officials say they are at least a decade away from coming up with affordable, reliable lithium batteries that would make plug-in electric cars feasible. Bricklin says he can do the job in half that time, or better.
"I don't have to worry about amortizing the value of transmissions and other components I'm using in traditional gasoline-powered cars," Bricklin said. "I don't have that kind of infrastructure. I can start fresh."
Bricklin acknowledged that the bigger car companies have billions of dollars to pour into the development of plug-in electric vehicles and that they are loaded with technological and engineering talent. He said they are serious in their pursuit of electric automobiles. "And that they are smart enough" to eventually bring them to market, Bricklin said.
"But there is no way that they can just walk away from everything that they have invested in current technology, and that includes Toyota's complicated, expensive [gas-electric hybrid] system," Bricklin said.
The yet-to-be-named Bricklin plug-in electric would be "simple and affordable," Bricklin promised. "It's going to be a fabulous plug-in electric that gets the equivalent of 100 miles per gallon. It will be luxurious, and it will cost 30 percent less" than anything produced by the big companies, Bricklin said.
He was sketchy on the details. But he is not alone among senior, rambunctiously visionary automotive veterans in thinking and talking about developing an inexpensive, environmentally friendly, high-mileage automobile.
Other like-minded individuals include two industry icons, racing great and automotive designer Carroll Shelby, who turns 84 this week, and Lee A. Iacocca, 82, the legendary chairman of what was once an independently owned, American-controlled Chrysler.
In recent years, Shelby and Iacocca have discussed the possibility of developing a car that can sell for $10,000 and get at least 50 miles per gallon. Iacocca, at Bricklin's urging, once tried his hand at developing a market for electric bicycles after retiring from Chrysler in 1993.
"The technology wasn't ready to make it work back then," Bricklin said. "But it's ready now. We can do this. We can give America an affordable car that gets 100 miles per gallon. We have to do this."
He said he plans to discuss the idea with Shelby and Iacocca. He beamed at the thought -- what a magnificent last hurrah. Three members of the "automotive over-the-hill gang" beating the big companies to market with a 100-miles-per-gallon car.
"That would be something," Bricklin said. "We can do this. I know we can do this."