ARO is a Romanian brand of all-terrain vehicles building rustic vehicles intended for Eastern countries mainly.
However, for a long time the brand will be imported to us, making France one of its main markets. In Portugal, the Aro become Portaro, and Hisparo in Spain. But the brand has more ambition than that.
The American dream
Since the early 1980s, the brand has dreamed of exporting to the United States. Admittedly, the market is very competitive and the standards are complicated and drastic. Moreover, it is hard to imagine the average American dreaming of a Romanian vehicle.
But the American market is huge and loves 4X4s of all kinds. At the headquarters of the brand we begin to dream, with 10,000 annual sales, we could double production. To get there, we set ourselves a roadmap with a clear objective: to sell the least expensive 4×4 on the American market, at $9,995.
In 1990, the Aro factory sent 200 models to the United States. Delivered without engines, they must be resold on the spot after having received an American block. Everything looks good but nothing goes as planned.
Off-roaders are delivered in Portland, Maine. They will remain on the quay for several years!! Contrary to what they thought, the leaders of Aro see themselves confronted with a wall, that of customs clearance.
The cheapest 4×4 in the United States
Finally a handful of vehicles managed to clear customs. They receive a 2.3-litre Ford Ranger engine and mirrors, as well as new tires. Everything is renamed Aro Hunter, and a head office is created in New York, on Fordham Road.
We call the press, the New York Times announces the arrival of this new brand. But quickly, we must face the facts. With only 30 models sold from 1990 to 1992 it is a total failure. The quality of construction scares away the few potential customers. Aro stops the charges.
If the failure is total, the fact remains that nearly 200 vehicles without engines are still sleeping on a dock in Maine. A local mechanic with a team of three people decides to install 2.4-litre Chrysler engines in these boxes.
Aro asks that the brand logo be removed but allows the models to be sold under the Hunter name. Twenty copies will be sold between 1993 and 1995 on American soil. The Americans are definitely not rushing to acquire these vehicles.
It is at this moment that a character will appear whose destiny will be intimately linked to that of Aro. John Perez is an American from Cuba, who has lived in Atlanta since he was 15, where he was at the heart of a federal investigation for having cashed
$1.4 million in deposits from 60 US dealers without owning an official dealer license. Perez’s project is classic, he will mount Ford 3-litre V6 engines on the Aro and it will sell like hotcakes.
Quickly, three models are built, which makes it possible to organize a photo session to design a brochure, and another handful of vehicles which are used for various crash tests.
The specialized press believes in it
In 1998, ARO was therefore relaunched in the USA under the name ARO 24. The Four Wheeler Magazine, published in January 1998, announced the Romanian comeback: “L”Aro 4×4, which is now imported, intends to be a stone in the pond of four-wheel drive, a market that continues to grow. The potential is enormous and John Perez, President and Founder of Eastern Europe Imports, expects to sell 20,000 copies for 1998. There are currently over 150 dealers in the United States ready to sell the Aro brand with a price of base less than $13,000.”
But faced with the poor manufacturing quality, Perez thought it would be good to buy ARO to keep an eye on the factory.
Takeover of ARO, Romania’s automotive flagship
After collecting $75,000 in deposits from 200 dealers, for a total of fifteen million dollars, without ever delivering a car, Perez returns from Romania with good news. He bought the builder for just $180,000.
Eduard Palaghita, ARO specialist in New York says: “Perez never delivered the cars but the factory never made them. Everyone in the factory was stealing, from the small worker to the highest hierarchical level.” Perez tells an incredible story in an interview: “I had 500 purchase orders from Americans. To manufacture a first series of 4X4s with Ford engines, I sent 128 engines to Romania. The engines were stolen by Romanian customs officers who demanded a ransom.” But the entrepreneur is not at the end of his surprises.
The whole city steals electricity
To clean up the Aro plant in Romania, Perez had hired an ex-GM plant manager.
Once there, surprised that this small factory consumes more electricity than a giant General Motors factory in the USA, he decides to cut the power to carry out a check.
The entire city is plunged into darkness. All the inhabitants were connected illegally to the factory. By wanting to restore order at ARO, the new owner will create trouble for himself.
Attempted murder and end of ARO
One morning on his way to the factory, Perez receives an unusual phone call from one of his opponents. He arranges to meet her at a McDonald’s where the two men have coffee. As he got back into his car, he collapsed, lifeless.
The driver rushes towards the nearest clinic. “If I hadn’t traveled with a driver, I would have died in that car.”
Threats to his family will follow, before the investor throws in the towel. This story will put an end to the story of the Romanian 4X4s. Only Dacia persists, bought by Renault.