PORTLAND, Maine - Eurasia Motor Corp., one of at least three companies floating proposals to distribute offbeat, foreign-built sport-utilities in the United States, insists that it will have vehicles to sell less than four months from now.
'I just know I can do it,' Eurasia CEO Howard Patterson said at a dealer introduction last week for his latest would-be entry, the Gazelle Endura.
Although various promoters have been collecting dealer deposits for at least 10 years for proposals to import sport-utilities from Romania, China or South Africa, no vehicles have been delivered.
Patterson promised at the National Automobile Dealers Association convention in February that he would have vehicles to sell by this fall. Those vehicles - ostensibly designed and engineered by Foers Engineering in Britain, built in South Africa and powered by an engine from Cosworth Engineering - never materialized.
Now, after starting from scratch in early 1998 with a totally different vehicle, Patterson has set an even shorter deadline: December.
'I just know I can'
The Endura is built in Brazil, where it is called the JPX. It is based on a French military vehicle, the Auverland A3. Eurasia, based in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, says it wants to sell 10,000 to 20,000 a year in the United States.
JPX do Brasil has an annual capacity of 6,000 vehicles on one shift. Production has been running at about 1,500 annually.
Patterson said he wants to get at least one vehicle to each of his 42 US dealers by the end of December.
Two versions of the JPX were available for dealers to test drive: a sport-utility with a canvas top, and a sport-utility with a pickup truck bed. Dealers said it can sell if Eurasia can deliver the cars, and if the suggested retail price is below $17,000.
When pressed on such specifics as US safety and emissions rules; whether the plant in Brazil is prepared to crank up production tenfold, and whether Eurasia can afford to do what it says it will do, Patterson replied: 'I just know I can do it. This is my dream, I just know I can do it.'
The Endura lacks passive restraints, which are required for sport-utilities, and the Peugeot engines have not been certified for sale in the USA.
Patterson admitted last week he has not even identified an airbag supplier.
Without safety and emissions certification, the Endura cannot be sold in the United States.
French maker support
Auverland-Sovamag, the French manufacturer of the A3 military vehicle, is supporting Eurasia.
Auverland President Francois Servanin attended the dealer introduction here. He said he intends to run the JPX factory in Brazil personally.
Patterson says his first goal is only to get at least one vehicle to each dealer by the end of this year, as opposed to reaching full volume.
Servanin acknowledged last week he has no experience exporting vehicles to the United States, and he said he is leaving it entirely up to Eurasia to bring the Endura into compliance with US regulations.
Always a gamble
Even though Eurasia has so much against it, some dealers at the introduction here last week said it is worth risking a minimum of $30,000 for a deposit, or around $70,000 for a franchise.
'There's no question it's a gamble. It's been a gamble from the get-go,' said Bob Lanphere, president of a small dealership group with five franchises in Beaverton, Oregon.
'It's one of these,' he said, making a roll-the-dice motion. 'But I've taken bigger risks than this before that paid off.'