A Visionary Plugs In to the Electric Car Race

Malcolm Bricklin says his electric cars would be
Malcolm Bricklin says his electric cars would be "simple and affordable." (By Carlos Osorio -- Assocated Press)
By Warren Brown
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, January 9, 2007

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."

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