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Several dealers say GM affiliation is safe

May 15, 2009

TRI-STATE -- Several Tri-State vehicle dealerships heard Friday they won't be among the 1,100 dealers General Motors is cutting from its U.S. network.

One dealer, Douglas Motors in Hancock, was told its GM franchise agreement will be reviewed before it expires in October 2010, said Amy Douglas McCarty, the finance manager.

"It's a notice that we're under the microscope," General Manager Richie Grove said.

Friday was the second straight day dealers selling U.S.-made vehicles braced for important news about their future. A day earlier, Chrysler announced it wants to eliminate nearly 800 dealerships.

Some local businesses who sell Chrysler and GM products were on edge both days.

Grove said his staff watched nervously for a United Parcel Service courier Thursday and a FedEx courier Friday, which is how Chrysler and GM contacted dealers.

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"So, it's been nerve-wracking," he said.

Douglas Motors was not dropped as a Chrysler dealer Thursday, but at least four others in the region were -- two in West Virginia, one in Frederick, Md., and one in McConnellsburg, Pa.

Grove said sales at his dealership have been slow for "two solid years," forcing management to adjust to the market.

Even as the federal government injects money into the banking industry, "the lending is tight still," he said.

Hoffman Automotive, which includes Hoffman Chevrolet Cadillac, will remain with GM.

"Just tell Hagerstown that the sun is shining in Hagerstown," dealer Jenny Stahl said.

Hoffman, which also avoided the list of Chrysler cuts, started restructuring in the middle of 2007, Stahl said. That included looking at expenses, such as computers and cell phones, as well as cutting the advertising budget and some employees. The GM store now has 67 employees.

Stahl said the dealership benefited by adjusting before the worst of the economic crash.

In 2008, sales volume was down, but revenue was up, due to cuts and a good sales team, she said.

"We've had an increase (in business) in the last 30 days ...," she said. "And God bless Hagerstown for their support."

As part of its announcement Thursday, Chrysler listed the affected dealerships. On Friday, GM didn't.

In response to inquiries, Jennings Pontiac Buick GM in Chambersburg, Pa.; Ideal Buick GMC Hyundai in Frederick; Bogley Chevrolet in Thurmont, Md.; and Renn Kirby Pontiac in Frederick indicated they weren't asked to sever their GM affiliation.

Messages left at other dealerships weren't returned.

Gene Bogley, who owns Bogley Chevrolet, said his dealership makes money every month and recently was rated above average in every category during a review. "You'd think you'd be OK," he said.

He said the operation is efficent, too -- 12 employees do the work of about 20.

Three of four dealers in Berkeley and Jefferson counties in West Virginia said they hadn't received any bad news Friday from GM.

"As it stands right now, I've not seen anything personally," said Ken Cooper, general manager of Alex Chevrolet in Charles Town, W.Va.

Cooper said the industry's troubles have been particularly trying.

"I'm sick about what's going on," Cooper said.

Guy G. Chicchirichi, owner of Guy's Buick-Pontiac-Oldsmobile-GMC Inc., in Ranson, W.Va., said they were on "pins and needles," but had not received any notification, good or bad.

Chicchirichi joked that the dealership set up roadblocks to keep UPS and FedEx trucks from delivering notices to the business off North Mildred Street.

"I'm laughing to keep from crying, to tell you the truth," Chicchirichi said.

The dealership he said he started with his father, Guy Chicchirichi, is expected to lose its Pontiac brand, which GM plans to phase out by the end of 2010.

"That's a tragedy in itself," Chicchirichi said.

Chicchirichi said the family started the car business with Pontiac in 1967, followed by Buick, a short time later.

The business was incorporated as Guy's Buick-Pontiac, Inc. in December 1969, according to Secretary of State Natalie Tennant's online business organization information system.

Bob Thompson, general manager of Parsons Opequon Motors Inc. in Martinsburg, said he heard of a couple area dealerships affected by GM's decision, but he had "no worries" after not receiving any notification affecting his business off East Moler Avenue.

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