Malcolm Bricklin on His PHEV Plans: Business Week Interview
- A month ago Visionary Vehicles announced its
intention to partner with the plug-in hybrid
community and CalCars as it works to bring
Chinese-made PHEVs to market -- see
In an interview with Bradley Berman, editor of
HybridCars.com, Founder Malcolm Bricklin continues to explain his intentions
Bricklin is Back -- With a Plug-In
Legendary automotive maverick Malcolm Bricklin is
planning a luxury plug-in that gets 100 mpg with
a Chinese-built lithium ion battery
Business Week Autos April 12, 2007
Thirty years ago Malcolm 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 now more widely known for bringing
the Subaru and Yugo brands to America.
The attempt to build an original car from the
ground up is a once-in-a-lifetime, audacious act.
Trying it twice? Most consider it lunacy. Yet
that's what Bricklin, at age 68, is aiming to do.
"I'll be the only human being in history that
tried it twice," Bricklin told me. "Preston
Tucker never tried it again. John DeLorean died
before he could try it again. I'm the only one
alive, and I'm going to do it again."
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 his company, Visionary Vehicles.
Where does China fit into the future of the car
business, both in terms of manufacturing and as a burgeoning market?
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're going to invest in the
factories necessary to bring the prices down so
our components' costs are in line with
conventional cars. 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.
You're talking about being a manufacturer, parts
supplier, distributor, marketer
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.
You've said that you plan to manufacture
Chinese-made, plug-in hybrids, and bring them to the U.S. by 2009.
The end of 2009.
What are the greatest challenges in making that happen?
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.
It seems that you're blending two marketing
ideas. You're going after a luxury product, but
one that has great fuel efficiency. What gives
you the indication that luxury buyers care about fuel efficiency?
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.
It's taken seven years for hybrids to reach 2% of
the new-car market. Are you concerned about the
market adopting something that's so new?
First of all, there were only a limited number of
hybrids available. Number two, they aren't very
dramatic. To go from 25 to 32 mph, who gives a
damn? The Toyota (TM) 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, I think
our problem will be that we can't build them fast enough.
Are you saying that all the vehicles you produce
are going to be plug-in hybrids?
Yep. That's what I'm going to do.
What's your vision for transportation in the year
2030? How do you see it playing out?
I would 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.
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Felix Kramer fkramer@...
Founder California Cars Initiative
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