Bricklin Attempts to Recreate Auto Industry from Scratch

Bricklin src="http://www.hybridcars.com/files/brick-160_0.jpg" />

Malcolm Bricklin: “I’ll be the only human being in history that tried it twice.”

Most American youngsters at some point fill their homework with sketches of their fantasy car. But very few of them carry that dream to adulthood and turn their visions into metal, glass and rubber that actually move people down the road. Invariably, those rare vehicle visionaries who have eked out even a couple of hundred cars—think Preston Tucker and John DeLorean—have failed to keep their reputations and their finances intact.

The attempt to build an original car from the ground up is an once-in-a-lifetime, audacious act. Trying it twice? Most consider it lunacy. Yet that’s what Malcolm Bricklin, at age 68, is aiming to do. “I’ll be the only human being in history that tried it twice,” Bricklin told me. “Tucker never tried it again. John died before he could try it again. I’m the only one alive, and I’m going to do it again.”

Thirty years ago, Bricklin founded an automobile manufacturing enterprise that produced nearly 3,000 units of a gull-winged sports car called the Bricklin SV-1. The company quickly racked up more than $20 million in debt, folded, and receded into the annals of auto history. Bricklin is more widely known for bringing the Subaru and Yugo brands to America.

Now, the indefatigable auto entrepreneur has taken his ambitions to a new level with his latest goal of single-handedly creating a mass-market, plug-in hybrid car industry, including: creating his own high-volume 100-mpg luxury vehicle; building a new dedicated component factory in China to produce lithium phosphate batteries and electronic parts for his car and for other fledgling electric car makers; organizing a chain of exclusive dealerships placing advanced bulk orders; and engineering a wireless network allowing service technicians to monitor the performance of a vehicle from a distance.

I spoke with Bricklin in the New York City office of Visionary Vehicles, his company.

Bradley Berman: Where does China fit into the future of the car business, both in terms of manufacturing and as a burgeoning market?

Malcolm Bricklin: China will be the biggest home market for cars in the world. They’re building the roads. They’re building the factories. They have the people. To not kill the whole population, they have to dramatically move into clean [car technology]. Not just environmentally clean, but really good mileage. We’re not talking going from about 26 to 28 mpg. I’m talking about 75 mpg.

The only thing that’s been keeping electric cars and electric hybrids from happening is the need for the next-generation in technology, the lithium battery. Engineers needed to get rid of the “boom” part…where the battery goes “boom” every once in a while. The engineers put phosphate and a couple of other things, and the “boom” is gone. But the price is too high. You want to put batteries in the car that are sufficient [for plug-in hybrids], it’s $30,000 to $40,000. But if you go to China, and order the quantity we’re about to order, the price drops to about $6,000.

By the way, we’re doing something else that seems counterintuitive. We are going to invest in the factories necessary to bring the prices down so our components’ costs are in line with conventional cars. So when you get rid of the engine and the transmission and the rest of the stuff [required for a conventional car, but not required for a series hybrid], we’re about equal. We’re going to make those same components available to other people who want to be in the electric vehicle business. On top of that, if they use those components—we’ll be the only ones offering them at a decent price—we will probably be willing to do their warranty and probably willing to let them sell it through our dealer network.

BB: You’re talking about being a manufacturer, parts supplier, distributor, marketer…

MB: I’m going to build a factory that will build a quarter of a million car battery components. Let’s say I’m going to use 150,000 of them. Say Tesla and Phoenix and all these people who are going to be in the electric car business, and who are trying to do it all by themselves, cannot bring the costs of the components down. I want those guys to succeed. They are not, in any way, competition, as far as I’m concerned.

The [electric and hybrid] industry needs to be started. It needs a good foundation. And if I have the [electric] components at a good price, a lot of people can get into the vehicle business now. It will be almost like it was in the beginning of the 20th century.

Poster for Bricklin SV-1 src="http://www.hybridcars.com/images/stories/bricklin-sv1-300.jpg" />

Poster for Bricklin SV-1. The vehicle was built in Saint John, New Brunswick, Canada from 1974 until early 1976 for the US market. 2,854 cars were built.

BB: You’ve said that you plan to manufacture Chinese-made plug-in hybrids, and bring them to the United States by 2009.

MB: The end of 2009.

BB: What are the greatest challenges in making that happen?

MB: Just about everything known to man. Where would you like to start? That we do the engineering right. That we test it sufficiently. That the battery factory capacity doesn’t produce flaws. That we find ways to check all the components of the electric system to make damn sure everything goes in perfectly. That the Chinese pay attention and give us the kind of quality we demand. That I don’t die too soon. That the ships with the cars don’t sink in the sea.

BB: It seems that you are blending two marketing ideas. You are going after a luxury product, but one that has great fuel efficiency. What gives you the indication that luxury buyers care about fuel efficiency?

MB: I don’t care if they do. I’m building a car that when you see it, and when you sit in it, and when you drive it, you would pick our car over a comparable car assuming that it didn’t have any environmental or mileage gains. Those are just a plus. I’m not trying to sell you a car because it’s environmentally good. I’m trying to sell you a car that’s so damn good that there’s not a reason you’re buying it except that it’s so damn gorgeous, and you want to have it. And it’s such a good value.

BB: It’s taken seven years for hybrids to reach 2 percent of the new car market. Are you concerned about the market adopting something that is so new?

MB: First of all, there were only a limited number of hybrids available. Number two, they are not very dramatic. To go from 25 to 32 mph, who gives a damn? The Prius, which was a cool idea, is a lousy looking car. We’re not asking anybody to make a sacrifice or pay more. And I believe when people see our vehicle and drive our vehicle, and with the warranty that we’re going to put on it—to say, if there’s a problem, it’s our problem, and a problem that you don’t have to bring back to the dealership—I think our problem will be that we can’t build them fast enough.

BB: Are you saying that all the vehicles you produce are going to be plug-in hybrids?

MB: Yep. That’s what I’m going to do.

BB: What’s your vision for transportation in the year 2030? How do you see it playing out?

MB: I’d tell you what I’d like. Except that I can’t find any technology that will do it. I’ve always wanted to build an air car that goes 18 inches off the ground, so we get rid of roads on top of everything else. Tires, and frames and all the other crap. The only problem is that I can’t find anything that will push it off the ground that doesn’t create all sorts of noise, not to mention serious wind and stability problems.

In the meantime, I think the electric hybrid is going to be the next serious replacement of the combustion engine.


  • John Grabber

    Enjoyed this interview and it’s refreshing energy and drive to make a difference to curent transportation technologies which will come, but by who?
    Mr Bricklin certainly does have an eye for design appeal and I look forward to seeing his vision again.
    Make a difference Mr Bricklin.
    We all need a hero!

  • Michel Van Duym

    I love his concept and the chutzpa to make it happen. The auto industry needs more people like Mr. Bricklin who instead of giving us reasons why it won’t work, try very hard to make it a reality. Good luck to you sir!

  • N3PRO

    I like his plan, desire, and excitement. Gee what a concept – good fuel economy and style. The current auto industry refuse to get it done HE WILL!

  • MacDave

    I cant wait to dump my gas guzzling vehicles; to thumb my nose at the Oil Companies, OPEC, AND Bush!

  • Mort

    WHAT A LOAD OF BULL!!
    Bricklins gonna design a car,build a prototype,manufacture and distribute a NEW model and all in less than 2 years??? What about servicing, spares etc?What about safety? What about telling the truth??

  • N3PRO

    Why don’t he just buy Chrysler, already powertrain. I would love to see the underdog become ontop! Plus I still want a PHEV Sprinter – a DCX product

  • Mort

    One thing is certain…GM,Ford,Chrysler,Toyota and the rest will make damn sure Bricklin is blocked at every juncture. GM wilol buy all the China factories or take shares in most and the rest of them will simply ride roughshod over him..

  • Barry Hay

    If you are going to reinvent the car as we know it lets be smart and forget about fossil fuel. I do not know what the power source would be but if it it is not all new why do it. Also do not forget the SUV type vehicle for the weekend. Need to tow the pop-up, the boat and the supplies.

  • Riviera

    What this country needs is a good U.S. produced hybrid 4-door sedan that also looks good,and competes with the Ptius in price, not a gee-whiz super-car for the super-rich. If Bricklin can compete with the Prius pricewize and have a better-looking and at least as good fit&finish he will have a winner.

  • Jon

    I know where there is a warehouse full of BRICKLINS plus A BRICKLIN dealer sign still in the orginal crate. $$$in the bank . Good luck second time.

  • Gregg

    Look a the current market: a hybrid Honda costs $10k more than the same trim level in a non-hybrid version, and return on investment may not occur for 7 years! This rotten return on what should be an economy car. Now introduce a luxury trim level hybrid that gets 75-100 mpg. Now return on investment is almost immediate, because the car is desired in it’s own right, and the gas saved is significant. Plus, once the production levels are high enough, the production components start a siginificant drop in price, which means the tech can filter down to the mainstream vehicles (remember how CD burners for computers entered the market at about $8000?) and create real market competition. An entire line of cars, in every trim and price range, become available to the public, driving down prices across the board. The old tech (full internal combustion) has to drop way down, because now the cost of owning the gas car is prohibitive, and they have to sell nice Civics for $6-7k for us to want to purchase them because gas is $5.00 a gallon by 2009 (that’s not an imagined figure, and not just here in LA). Imagine the components getting cheap and prevalent enough to convert your hummer to get 45-50 MPG? This is the plan that can get us there. Kudos to him! I can’t wait to put this kind of tech in my (garaged) ’73 Firebird and get 75 MPG. I can’t wait for 2011 if he succeeds!

  • greensteve.com

    where do i buy the stock?
    where do i buy the car?
    for 30 years i’ve been looking for this solution.
    steve

  • budnbet@hotmail.com

    i like it what`s next

  • Laura Hagfeldt

    As a Civic hybrid driver since 2005, happy with my 39.7 mpg as I watch CT prices hit $4/gal, I figure when I’m thru paying for this hybrid, I’ll get in line for the Bricklin plug-in, and smile paying for it!!

  • davebready

    Put me on the list

  • Kevin

    If you doubt it can be done. rent the movie “Who killed the electic car?” It can be produced and marketed. If he doesnt get bought out or otherwise hoodwinked. I will buy you car until then i will drive my Honda Insight and enjoy my 51mpg. Which they stopped selling those in 2006.

  • Hartley S Newman

    I like Mr bricklin’s ideas. I bought a Prius in 04 and think its a fine car. I looked at a Bricklin years ago but it was WAY TOO EXPENSIVE. Hope he succeeds in making a car competitive with the Prius. By the way I like the way the Prius looks. form follows function. right???

  • K. Hogan

    I certainly hope Bricklin can pull this off. The world is certainly ready for an electric car. I would buy one today if I could. Good luck!!

  • Max

    I would buy one too! The internal combustion engine needs to go the way of the dinosour! I agree with Kevin, watch “Who killed the electric car?”. It is one sided but showes what can be done.

  • Kevin

    Put my name on the list, I want one of these items!

  • debbie

    would love to keep in touch with this information. I own one of these babies and love it. thanks for the site.

  • Jai Winding

    Malcolm:
    You are preaching to the choir. I cannot wait to get one and get rid of my SUV. Prius owners eat your heart out.