Ex-Importer of Yugos to Sell Chinese Vehicles in U.S.

Visionary Vehicles LLC (search), started by the man who brought the Yugo car to America in the 1980s, plans to sell a million vehicles from China on the U.S. market at bargain-basement prices by 2011, the company said Monday.

Malcolm Bricklin's (search) Visionary Vehicles has signed a deal with China's Chery Automobile Co. (search) with the goal of selling 250,000 vehicles in the first year. Bricklin's company will be the first to import low-cost vehicles on a large scale from China, the fastest growing auto market in the world.

The target price for the vehicles, which are expected to be launched in January 2007, will be about 30 percent lower than current comparable models and will carry a 10-year/100,000 mile warranty, Visionary said.

The first year's models will include a compact sedan, a mid-size sedan, a sport and luxury coupe, and a sport utility vehicle.

Toyota Motor Corp.'s (search) mid-size Camry sedan, the most popular car in the United States, sells for about $18,000 for the basic model.

"I don't think we are going to have a problem selling the cars," Bricklin said. "I think our only problem is coordinating, getting everything here, doing the job that has to be done and making sure the quality is not just acceptable ... it's the best we can possibly get."

Bricklin is best known for importing the Yugo, a cheap hatchback sedan, into the United States from communist-led Yugoslavia beginning in the mid-1980s.

The quality of the cars was notoriously poor and Yugo America, a New Jersey-based import company, folded four years after Bricklin sold his stake in 1988.

The new venture is very different, Bricklin told Reuters.

"We have a brand new factory instead of a 50-year-old factory," he said. "We have five brand new models ... instead of a 20-year-old model by Fiat."

Cars sold under the new joint venture would have to meet rigorous U.S. safety and emission standards.

Bricklin, who got his start in the auto industry by importing Subarus to the United States in the 1960s, has partnered with Ron Harbour, president of Harbour Consulting, to assess the capacity and quality performance of Chery's factories in China.

"I have ingredients (partners) on the other side I never had before except in Subaru," Bricklin said.

Chery, which ranks eighth in sales among China's fast-growing automakers, is in the midst of a legal battle with General Motors Corp., over its top-selling vehicle in China, the QQ. GM charges the small sedan is a direct copy of GM's Chevrolet Spark.