GJ dealers say they’ll keep GM franchises

The two GM dealers in Grand Junction got through Friday with reason to think they’ll keep their franchises with the automaker.

Bozarth Chevrolet and Fuoco Motors received no letters from GM, officials said.

“We got no letter, and no letter is good news,” said Mark Miller, general manager of the Bozarth dealership.

“I have been told that Grand Junction is still a two-GM-store town,” Fuoco Motors owner Bob Fuoco said. “I have every indication that we’re not going to be affected, but I’m still sitting on pins and needles.”

General Motors Corp. on Friday told about 1,100 dealers, or nearly 20 percent of its U.S. network, they would lose their franchises with the troubled automaker. The cuts are part of a larger GM plan to drop 2,600, or nearly 42 percent, of its 6,200 dealerships as the automaker tries to restructure outside of bankruptcy court and become profitable again.

Unlike Chrysler, which sent letters by UPS to all of its dealers Thursday, GM sent letters by Federal Express only to dealerships that would lose their franchises.

GM put no list on the Web.

Dealerships in Delta, Gunnison, Montrose, Glenwood Springs and Moab, Utah, also reported receiving no letters and heaving sighs of relief.

The eliminated GM dealerships will drop their affiliation when their contracts end late next year.

“We’re 98 years old. We’re two years from 100, and I don’t want to go out at 99 years,” said Alan Bigelow, whose family runs a Cleveland-area Chevrolet dealer that learned it was on GM’s hit list.

While GM doesn’t own the dealers, the company says its network is too big, causing dealers to compete with each other and giving shoppers too much leverage to talk down prices and hurt future sales.

Several hundred of the GM dealers knew already they were headed for closure, but most of them learned for the first time Friday. An industry group says the GM and Chrysler cuts combined could wipe out 100,000 jobs.

GM and Chrysler are scrambling to reorganize and stay alive in a severe recession that has pummeled car and truck sales for U.S. automakers, which already had been losing market share to foreign companies for decades.

Chrysler LLC already is in bankruptcy protection, and industry analysts say General Motors Corp. is making its cuts now in preparation for a bankruptcy filing June 1. The company says it would prefer to restructure out of court.

GM declined to reveal which dealers will be eliminated. Many dealers vowed to fight, first through a 30-day company appeal process, then possibly in court.

GM’s dealers are protected by state franchise laws, and the company concedes it would be easier to cut them if it were operating under federal bankruptcy protection. GM says it’s trying to restructure outside of bankruptcy because of the stigma of Chapter 11.

Chrysler dealers have fewer options because the company already filed for bankruptcy protection, and federal bankruptcy judges generally trump state law. And Chrysler said Thursday its cuts were final.

GM outlined a plan to cut about 40 percent of its 6,000-dealer network by the end of 2010 in hopes of getting the company back on its feet. Besides the 1,110 dealership cuts, the company will shed about 500 dealerships that market the Saturn, Hummer and Saab brands, which GM plans to phase out or sell.

And when the surviving dealers’ contracts are up in late 2010, GM will cut still more by not offering renewals to about 10 percent of the dealers who are left. Dealers could stay open selling used cars or other brands, but GM and Chrysler cuts still will leave cities across the U.S. with empty buildings, vacant lots and perhaps hundreds of thousands of dollars in lost tax revenue.

FedEx letters bearing the bad news began arriving Friday morning at GM franchises around the country. The letter states that dealers had been judged on sales, customer service scores, location, condition of facilities and other criteria.

While the targeted dealers represent about 20 percent of GM’s total, they make only 7 percent of its sales, the company said.

The cuts will allow the surviving dealers to expand the size of their markets, so they have a better chance of staying healthy and attracting private investment, said Mark LaNeve, GM’s North American vice president of sales and marketing.

“Over time, they just can’t afford to invest in their business to the degree the competition has,” LaNeve said.

Toyota, for example, generally has larger and newer showrooms and service departments than GM and Chrysler dealers, making those dealerships more attractive to potential buyers.


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