Auto dealers remain upbeat

Published 9:29 pm Friday, December 12, 2008

FRANKLIN—Amid controversy surrounding Congress’ attempt to bail out troubled automakers General Motors and Chrysler LLC from impending bankruptcy, local car dealers remain optimistic.

Mike Duman, who recently purchased the GM dealership on Armory Drive, said he was caught off-guard by the severity of the problems.

“I didn’t see it coming like it was, but I’m confident that we’ll be OK,” Duman said.

Duman said while he has seen sales in his Suffolk dealership fall, his Franklin store seems to be faring quite well.

“Franklin is accomplishing their sales goals,” he said. “I’ve got a great team in place who are working hard to solve the needs of their customers.”

Blake Blythe, owner of Blake Ford, also on Armory Drive, agreed.

“Our business is doing very good,” he said Friday. “It’s not excellent, but we’re doing fine.”

Both men have been in the auto sales business for more than 30 years and have strong opinions about what a bailout would mean for the industry.

Blythe said he thinks there should be no bailout at all.

“I don’t believe in bailouts,” he said. “If people need to go borrow money, they go get it from the bank. Of course, they said if they didn’t get the money, they would go completely under.

I don’t feel like they will go completely broke. Although, I do think some merging may go on.”

Duman said one thing that may come out of this situation is a more flexible relationship between the auto companies and the United Auto Workers union.

“The biggest problem the Big 3 has is attributed to labor costs,” he said. “Right now it takes a company like Honda about $45 to pay its worker’s wages and benefits. The American companies pay their people about $75. That means American cars cost about $2,000 more to make.”

Reducing that cost would make American cars more attractive to consumers, Duman said.

Both Blythe and Duman said they are aware some dealerships are experiencing major problems.

“It’s been hard for some, but the people that can hold out will be real strong when things get better,” Blythe said.

Duman said he believes public perception is hampering sales.

“This situation has nothing to do with interest rates or gas prices,” he said. “It’s a little unusual because what we’re fighting is a lack of consumer confidence. People are afraid about their 401 (k) or loosing their job so they aren’t spending money.”

Duman said customers should realize that, despite reports about the credit crunch, financing is still available.

“We are still financing cars,” he said. “We have strong relationships with the banks and credit unions in this area. There has never been a better time for the consumer to purchase. Right now the saying, ‘Our loss is your gain’ really is true.”

Although business is steady, Blythe said the customers coming into his dealership have mostly come out of need. “We are seeing a lot of need-driven buyers. People who have recently wrecked their car or have over 125,000 miles are the majority of our customers right now.”

Dawn Yurkas and her mother Melody Speegel of Franklin, were in the Mike Duman Showroom on Friday looking at a new car.

Speegel said her lease is coming up and she was considering her options. Yurkas came along to help because she had recently made her own car purchase.

Yurkas said current market conditions didn’t deter her from wanting to buy a car.

“People still have to have cars,” she said. “They need to drive their kids to school, go to work and wherever else.”

Both Duman and Blythe said their businesses aren’t going anywhere.

Blythe, who had sold his dealership eight years ago, repurchased it to keep a Ford presence in the community.

“I bought this dealership back because it was about to go under,” he said. “I didn’t do that to see it fail. I plan on being here.”

Duman said he’s not giving up no matter what the market does to the car industry.

“I don’t have a choice. I have way too much of a commitment in the community and to my employees,” he said. “Things will turn around.”