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Wheeling out a sports car almost as quick as a wink

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Before the end of this year, car buyers in the United States should be able to purchase the latest in foreign sports cars -- the DMC-12 from the De Lorean Motor Company in Northern Ireland. The cars will land on US shores only 18 months after the De Lorean project was started here.

Since John Z. De Lorean, chairman of the company, persuaded the British government in 1978 to provide $106 million of taxpayers' money to build a sports-car factory in Roman Catholic West Belfast, a new superstructure has risen from the green fields at Dunmurry, some six miles from the center of the city. Industrialists and the British motor industry in particular were astonished at the speed of negotiations between Mr. De Lorean and the government , which took only 45 days to complete. Moreover, the progress on the project so far is impressive.

Mr. De Lorean undertook to employ up to 2,000 people in the production of a two-seater vehicle for the US market. His record as former group vice-president of General Motors and his ability as an auto engineer and marketing executive persuaded 350 dealers across the US each to buy $25,000 worth of De Lorean shares and to take from 50 to 150 completed cars. These orders will account for the first two years of production in Belfast.

Mr. De Lorean himself invested $4 million, and another $18 million came from North American sources. The British prepared the site, built the plant, and provided most of the money. It was a unique deal which gave both sides what they wanted: Mr. De Lorean needed the financing, the facilities, and the right kind of labor force. The british wanted new jobs for an area of high unemployment, plus a new prestige product.

Mr. De Lorean remains the linchpin, providing his own vision and pragmatism. His experience, plus his considerable charisma, opened doors that would have remained closed to others. He is based in New York and commutes regularly to Belfast. After a monthly board meeting at Dunmurry he outlined his reasons for establishing his factory in Northern Ireland.

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