What Mr. Bricklin Is Up To Now
For more than four decades, Malcolm Bricklin has made news with his entrepreneurial adventures in the automotive industry -- never shutting himself off from new ideas, always willing to make an important change to accommodate what he sees as an evolving market need. Over the years, there are very few business models in which he hasn’t participated with the various auto brands with which he’s been associated around the globe: he’s manufactured, imported, redesigned, renamed, distributed and sold. So can anyone be amazed that Bricklin’s current automotive project, Visionary Vehicles, has just announced an abrupt change in its overall business direction?
“People want clean and green cars, but they’re not willing to sacrifice size and performance,” Bricklin told EV World in an interview yesterday. “And they don’t want to wait. I have decided to go in a direction that will give people what they want, with tooling that exists right now.”
Not surprisingly, Bricklin’s plan contains some bold components. Reopen a couple of large auto manufacturing plants closed by GM and Chrysler over the past few years. Get dealers to provide input on a few strategic upgrades to both the interior and exterior of carefully selected models. Implement an onboard electrolyzer to generate small but significant amounts of hydrogen to be used as a fuel additive, greatly improving performance while increasing gasoline mileage by as much as 100%.
What was that? Hydrogen? Isn’t onboard hydrogen one of the most common scams in the automotive aftermarket? “This is technology that was developed in 1974 at Jet Propulsion Laboratory -- and it has merit, to be sure,” Bricklin explained. “But virtually every single one of my friends and advisors told me to steer clear of it. I decided to try to get to the bottom of all this, so I went out and bought several of these products and tested them myself. I found that they actually all worked to some degree -- or for a short period of time -- but none of them, regardless of price, worked well for an indefinite period of time. I needed to figure this all out, so I hired some bright people to find out what was going wrong.”
Bricklin continues, “As it turns out, there have been a few problems in implementing this hydrogen technology -- called HHO -- and those problems had completely destroyed the credibility of the idea -- until my team made a couple of breakthroughs. One of the problems is that hydrogen affects the engine’s sensors -- particularly the oxygen sensor. So our first challenge, which we solved, was writing a control module for the sensor that would comply with EPA regulations while proving the right mix of fuel.
“The second issue was controlling the temperature of the water to be electrolyzed -- neither overheating of the water and turning it into steam, nor underheating it and freezing it. This is another fix we just made.”
But such claims may be met with skepticism. Dr. Douglas Nelson, professor of mechanical engineering at Virginia Tech, teaches courses in hydrogen energy systems, advanced technology vehicles, and vehicle design. “I have looked at these sort of claims in the past,” he says. “There is only a small potential to improve combustion efficiency from gasoline in combustion engines. Many others have made these assertions, and none of them has been carefully validated.”
But where Bricklin may meet skepticism from certain technologists, he’s bound to receive a warm embrace from businesspeople -- if for no other reason than his consistent faithfulness to the dealer community. His penetrating insight into -- and hearty inclusion of -- the dealer channel has marked each one of his auto marketing ventures.
And this announcement is no exception. “Today’s dealers are worried,” Bricklin observes. “Will their contracts (with the OEMs) be cancelled? And even if their contracts remain intact, will these folks have anything to sell that Americans will want to buy? This venture is the answer,” he asserts confidently. “Instead of beating up the UAW, here is a way to give them bonuses for building cars that people want to buy. It’s something we can do, and we can do it now.”
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