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Sunday, Sep 24, 2023




Staff Reporter

You gotta have a dream.

And if you’re Malcolm Bricklin, you gotta share it.

Spreading the gospel has been costly for the flamboyant, 58-year-old businessman. In the mid-1970s a gull-winged Bricklin “safety car” never caught on with drivers. And in the late 1980s, efforts to import the low-cost Yugo likewise flopped.

Both ventures led Bricklin to file for personal bankruptcy, but did nothing to diminish his pioneering spirit.

Now Bricklin has again run out of gas in his quest to help people get from here to there.

His latest venture, which he began developing about two years ago, is a bicycle he still insists will revolutionize the electric vehicle industry.

That insistence comes despite the fact that his debt-laden Electric Bicycle Co. skidded into Chapter 11 bankruptcy several weeks ago.

But make no mistake, he says, the company’s EV Warrior is a product whose time has come. After a corporate restructuring, he expects renewed sales of the $1,300-plus cycles.

“The point is, everybody who gets on it, loves it,” Bricklin said.

Others say it will take more than rider loyalty to get Bricklin’s venture back on track.

Until last December, Bricklin’s main cohort in the Electric Bicycle Co. was Malcolm Currie, the button-down chairman of the University of Southern California’s board of trustees and a former chairman of Hughes Aircraft Co.

From the start, Bricklin and Currie made an odd couple, and a conflict of management styles was cited in the company’s March 19 bankruptcy filing as a factor contributing to its failure.

But the two Malcolms shared the belief that if the United States is to ever make the leap from gasoline- to electric-powered vehicles, the revolution will start on two wheels, not four.

The product they came up with, the EV Warrior, is essentially a mountain bike with a 24-pound battery pack located behind the seat. The motor can propel the bicycle to a maximum speed of 15 mph without pedaling, and has a range of about 15 miles.

Currie could not be reached for comment last week and a representative of his new company, Currie Technologies in Van Nuys, would not comment on the company’s future plans.

It was Currie’s reputation that brought the Electric Bicycle Co. much of its early credibility among auto dealers who distributed the bicycles during their brief eight-month run, said Howard Drake, sales manager at Casa de Cadillac in Sherman Oaks.

“Everybody liked Currie, he’s a well-respected man,” Drake said. “It was never clear to me or the other dealers how Bricklin could secure control of something that started out as a partnership between those two.”

Currie began distancing himself from Electric Bicycle in September, first resigning as an officer in the company, and later leaving its board of directors.

Simultaneously, the company’s finances were souring. Bricklin’s attorney, Josefina Fernandez McEvoy, attributes the financial problems to poor planning.

“The company was undercapitalized since its inception and they implemented a totally ineffective marketing and sales program,” she said.

As early as September, Electric Bicycle was failing to honor its warranties on the bicycles, Drake said.

When Currie left in December, he took with him five prototypes, a new motor, a notebook containing design data and some financial records, according to court documents filed by Bricklin’s attorneys.

Electric Bicycle filed suit in U.S. Bankruptcy Court to recover the goods, and subsequently reached an agreement with Currie on the matter, said Steven Spector, an attorney at McDermott, Will & Emery representing Currie.

But that lawsuit scared away investors who were being courted to infuse new capital to help restructure the company, McEvoy says.

“As a result of litigation with Dr. Currie, the potential investors got cold feet. Why invest in company that doesn’t have its intellectual property?” McEvoy said.

Publicly, Bricklin has put a rosier picture on the split.

“Dr. Currie felt the direction we should take is to start work on a bike that could be built less expensively, so you could get a bigger market,” Bricklin said. “He went down that road. I felt we should find a different distribution channel.”

Bricklin’s strategy is far more upscale than Currie’s low-price, mass-market approach. Bricklin prefers to keep the price at $1,500 to $1,800.

Currie is still identified in court documents as a creditor of Electric Bicycle, holding more than $4 million in unsecured claims against the company. Electric Bicycle owes creditors, including Bricklin himself, a total of $10.5 million.

Much of the debt is to Sanyo North American Corp. and its Mexican subsidiary, which assembled the bicycles at a Tijuana factory. Sanyo has about $5 million in inventory of the bicycles and motors, according to Bricklin, who adds that he is anxious to purchase them back.

Indeed, Bricklin’s recovery plan is to have EV American, a new company he has started, buy the assets of Electric Bicycle and assume its liabilities. The new firm would be free of the distribution contracts Electric Bicycle signed with auto dealers, allowing EV American to pursue other sales outlets, including utility companies and country clubs.

Sanyo, for its part, has agreed to sell the inventory to EV American, according to court documents filed by Bricklin’s attorney. The documents did not specify a price at which that sale would be transacted, and Sanyo’s attorney, Reed Waddell of Pillsbury, Madison, Sutrow LLP, refused to discuss the matter.

Bricklin is now soliciting potential investors to join existing investors, who include best-selling author Sidney Sheldon. Given Bricklin’s history of resurrections, few are betting against him.

“We would love for them to be able to emerge from bankruptcy and continue to manufacture electric bicycles,” said Mike Gage, president and chief executive of Calstart, a non-profit public-private entity that operates the alternative-fuel transportation incubator facility where Electric Bicycle did much of its research and development.

Electric Bicycle owes CalStart about $36,000 but, Gage said, “there are no hard feelings here. New start-up companies occasionally run into trouble.”

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