The future of Visionary Vehicles, the company that announced in January it would bring the first Chinese-made cars to the United States by 2007, appears to be in some doubt, according to a New York Times (NYT) report.

Two top executives reportedly said in interviews on Monday that they had recently left Visionary, a privately held company based in New York, after only short stays - after just three months on the job, Pierre Gagnon, the president and chief operating officer and the No. 2 executive at Visionary [and former head of Mitsubishi in the US], said that he had resigned that day, adding that he had had a falling out six weeks ago with the head of Visionary, Malcolm Bricklin.

The NYT noted that Bricklin is the brash businessman - often likened to an automotive version of PT Barnum - who first brought the Yugo and Subaru brands to the United States.

"Malcolm reneged on several agreements that affect my trust and willingness to be part of his organization," Gagnon told the New York Times, adding: "I still have high hopes for what it might be possible for Visionary Vehicles to achieve and wish him the best."

Gagnon reportedly said that "many of the commitments he reneged on revolved around financial issues," but declined to elaborate.

The New York Times said the second executive to leave was Andrew Stewart, who worked with Gagnon at Saturn and Mitsubishi and was the vice president of franchise development at Visionary - he said he left at the end of April and returned to Mitsubishi.

"I left one month after I started," Stewart reportedly said, adding: "It became very, very clear, as much as I believe in what he's trying to do, it became clear he's not able to fulfil the promises necessary to create a viable company.

"The man doesn't have any money that I could see," he added, according to the NYT. "He doesn't pay his employees on a regular basis, he doesn't reimburse expenses very well."

In an interview with the paper on Monday evening, Bricklin disputed the men's contentions. He reportedly said that his company "was well funded" and that he had "terminated" Gagnon two months ago and had not paid him since.

"We realised he was not start-up material," Bricklin told the NYT, adding: "He didn't fit and we didn't announce it, and he was not supposed to announce it, until we worked out something in an advisory role."

He reportedly said that Stewart had been hired by Gagnon and added that he had only met Stewart briefly before he left the company.

The New York Times noted that Bricklin has received a wave of press coverage in recent months after his promise to bring 250,000 vehicles made by the fledgling Chinese automaker Chery Automotive to the United States by 2007, and even to deliver Lexus-level quality.

The paper added that the claims have been met with wide scepticism from auto executives, as well as with concern that any influx of inexpensive Chinese-made cars could start a new price battle in the highly competitive United States market.

Gagnon and Stewart, speaking to the NYT in separate interviews, said they were concerned about the ability of Visionary to deliver on Bricklin's promises.

"One of the risks is definitely quality in any start-up, and it's difficult to commit to Lexus-type quality with a five-year-old company, and by 2007 they'll be five years old," Gagnon reportedly said of Chery.

Bricklin told the paper that neither of the men had been with the company long enough to visit Chery's factory in China to make a judgment.

According to the New York Times, both Gagnon and Stewart said they still expected that cars from Chery would eventually make their way to the United States, though they could not say when.

"I think it's 90-plus percent that Chery automobiles will make it to the United States, and 99% that it won't happen with Malcolm Bricklin," Stewart reportedly said, adding: "I wish them the best."

The NYT said Bricklin's plans call for a network of 250 dealers around the country, and for those dealers to put up a substantial amount of Visionary's financing - they are being asked to invest $US2 million to $4 million in Visionary, according to Bricklin, who added that he had backed off from original plans to require dealers to commit another $8 million to $10 million to build palatial showrooms with outdoor movie screens and test tracks.

Gagnon told the paper: "Successful dealers make even larger investments, but given the risk associated with any new venture, this is an investment that they are not used to making."

The New York Times noted that Automotive News reported on Monday that Visionary had yet to sign a single dealer. Asked about the report by the NYT, Gagnon said: "My understanding is that no dealers have signed as of yet."

But when the paper asked if he had signed any dealers, Bricklin said: "The answer is yes; the number is what you're not going to get."

He reportedly said an advertisement would run in Automotive News in two weeks that would reveal the number. "I think everybody will be surprised."

Gagnon and Stewart told the New York Times that Bricklin had cancelled a plan to open a Visionary office on the West Coast, where the North American operations of all the Asian automakers - those of Toyota, Honda and Nissan - are based.

"When he changed his mind on that commitment, I became concerned about my future involvement," Gagnon reportedly said, adding: "All of the kind of people I was trying to recruit were located on the West Coast, so that became an issue."

The New York Times noted that Gagnon left Mitsubishi in 2003 amid scandals in Japan and trouble in the United States with high defaults stemming from aggressive lending to buyers with poor credit. He reportedly said he was becoming the chief executive of a small California start-up that sweeps away allergens from homes and buildings.