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Ex-Yugo importer turns to China

The man who brought America the mechanically challenged Yugo car in the 1980s is turning to China for his next venture aimed at selling import vehicles at bargain-basement prices on the U.S. market.
/ Source: Reuters

The man who brought America the mechanically challenged Yugo car in the 1980s is turning to China for his next venture aimed at selling import vehicles at bargain-basement prices on the U.S. market.

A report in Sunday's editions of the Detroit News said New York-based entrepreneur Malcolm Bricklin and Allen & Co., an investment banking firm, had recently signed the first-ever deal to import Chinese-built cars to America.

Their goal, together with state-owned Chinese partner Chery Automobile Co. Ltd., is to import up to 250,000 Chinese-made cars annually beginning in 2007, the report said.

The cars, all-new models including two sedans and a sport utility vehicle, will be priced about 30 percent below competing models on the U.S. market, Bricklin was quoted as saying.

Bricklin and spokesmen for Allen & Co. or Chery Automobile could not be reached for immediate comment.

The newspaper said that cars sold under Bricklin's joint venture, dubbed Visionary Vehicles Llc., would have to meet rigorous U.S. safety and emission standards.

It also remains to be seen whether Chery, which ranks eighth in sales among China's fast-growing automakers, is capable of manufacturing vehicles to the standard of quality needed for the U.S. market.

Chery's top-selling vehicle in China, the QQ, is at the center of a legal battle with General Motors Corp. which charges the small sedan is a direct copy of GM's Chevrolet Spark, the newspaper reported.

Bricklin got his start in the auto industry by importing tiny Subarus to the United States in the 1960s. He 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 New Jersey-based import company Yugo America folded four years after Bricklin sold his stake in 1988.