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Kai Ryssdal: If you have a look at the numbers on the auto-dealer closings from Chrysler and General Motors, you can kinda see their rationale; almost 800 Chrysler dealers got the bad news yesterday. But the company says they only account for about15 percent of sales. The 1,100 GM dealers who were told today work out to about the same percentage, slightly higher. But statistics don’t mean much to those who’re on the receiving end. Marketplace’s Amy Scott went to see a Connecticut Chrysler dealer who didn’t make the cut.
AMY SCOTT: I stopped by Amaral Motors in Newtown, Conn., this morning. In the showroom, a glass case displays a letter. It’s from Chrysler, congratulating Amaral on becoming one of the company’s five-star dealers. It’s dated November 2000. Today, taped to the front of that glass case, is another letter that arrived yesterday. It announces that as of next month, Amaral will no longer be a licensed Chrysler dealer.
Catherine FREITAS: And it’s just to show you the signs of the time, comparing how great they thought we were and how quickly they’ve changed their mind.
Catherine Freitas is Amaral’s general manager. Her dad, Daniel Amaral, took over the business from his father, who started it in the 1930’s. Amaral says he expected the news. He only sells the Chrysler brand — no Jeep or Dodge. And Chrysler had said it would target single-brand dealers. Still, he says it hurt to get that letter.
DANIEL Amaral: With the UPS driver, which I know, delivered it to me. You know, I says uh-oh. And it said something like “dealer only.” So I kinda knew, oh, this is it.
Up until about nine years ago, Amaral did a pretty brisk business. They sold a dozen or so new cars a month, plus used cars. And they ran a busy repair shop.
But customers started complaining about the reliability of Chrysler vehicles.
They wanted hybrid cars. And Freitas says Chrysler had nothing to offer them.
FREITAS: I’m constantly asking people who are dropping off cars for leases, would you like to see something else? Can I show you something else, you know, that we have available? And they’ve already purchased other makes, other models. “Nope, I’m dropping my lease return here, and I’m going over to Honda to pick up my minivan.”
Now, Freitas says, Amaral Motors sells maybe a car a month. Not enough to keep Chrysler’s support.
In Newtown today, locals took the news hard. Dan Amaral serves in the local government. And his dealership supports several community groups. Herb Rosenthal is former First Selectman, like the mayor. He bought a Chrysler from Amaral last year. It’s still under warranty, and now he’ll have to take it to another town for any repairs. Rosenthal says small communities will suffer as dealers around the country close.
HERB ROSENTHAL: If you look in any newspaper, the three biggest advertisers are banks, real estate and automobiles. Banks are in trouble, housing is down, and now to lose a lot of car dealerships I think will not only impact Newtown’s economy, but the whole country to lose these dealers.
Amaral may have lost its license to sell new Chryslers, but as with many dealerships, the family has no plans to shut down.
FREITAS: This is an original lock and key.
One idea Freitas has is to develop what’s been a side business selling vintage parts. Amaral Motors may try to team up with another manufacturer, or even start a non-auto business. Dan Amaral says he’ll keep the repair shop open.
AMARAL: I’ve been here, I’d say all my life, in the garage business. Washing cars, starting, I came right up through the ranks. So I won’t say the era has ended. But now it’s gonna change.
The change won’t be immediate. Amaral and his daughter plan to keep all their employees on the payroll. They’ve still got three new Chrysler’s on the lot to sell. As for the Chrysler sign out front, they expect the company to send someone out to take it down sometime next month.
In Newtown, Conn., I’m Amy Scott for Marketplace.
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