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Despite a slumping economy and a significant dip in vehicle sales nationwide, local automotive dealers say they are in good standing and are excited about what the next year may bring.
Annette Gause, owner of H&H Chevrolet in Kershaw, said over the last year, she’s had to cut expenses at the dealership to offset the 20 percent decline in sales.
However, sales are picking up and Gause believes the worst of the economic recession has passed. The dealership has not downsized at all and is at no risk to close, she said.
“We are going to be open,” Gause said. “Things have kind of leveled out. We’re looking at the upside.”
H&H’s fate was uncertain earlier this year, when Gause wondered if the dealership would be among those not to receive a franchise renewal from General Motors Corp., which closed over 1,000 stores as part of its bankruptcy earlier this year.
GM, though, renewed its agreement with H&H for five additional years.
H&H Chevrolet has kept all of the nearly 20 employees on board while expanding its service department. About six weeks ago, Gause bought equipment for H&H to now perform front-end wheel alignments as well as wheel balances and tire rotations.
She said those additions have helped increase business, as H&H has begun getting more customers from Pageland and other out-of-town locations, where area dealerships may have closed.
“We’re expanding,” Gause said. “We’re going to be here, and hopefully, things will be better for everybody.”
Mitch Thompson, general manager at Burns Ford, said business there is up more than 30 percent from 2008. He credits the success, in part, to the dealership’s practice of giving customers a price quote in five minutes.
A customer’s vehicle can also be appraised in just five minutes. Customers can also receive interest rate and monthly payment information in that time span as well, Thompson said.
“It’s working for us,” he said.
Thompson said a problem, though, is the number of new cars available on the lot. While Burns averages about 30 new vehicles sold monthly, Ford is allocating fewer than 10 per month to the dealership.
Because of that, Burns Ford’s ratio of used versus new vehicles sold is 2 to 1, while it should be 1 to 1, Thompson said.
“We can’t get any new cars,” he said.
Despite the trend, Burns ranked first out of 48 dealerships in its class in terms of sales in September. And Thompson expects business to continue going strong.
“It’s going to be a good year, in comparison, in terms of profit and sales,” he said about 2010.
Like Gause, Gary McWhirter, general manager at Lancaster Motor Co., wants to assure people that the dealership is not in jeopardy of going out of business.
Lancaster Motor Co., which primarily sells GM vehicles, made some layoffs but doesn’t plan to let go of any more of its employees, he said.
McWhirter said business is “moderately fair” and sales have been constant over the last few months.
“It’s just been fair,” he said. “Trying to keep all our customers satisfied and happy.”
McWhirter said Lancaster Motor Co., like other dealerships nationwide, is operating with less inventory, a result of GM slowing manufacturing.
But McWhirter said the dealership is bracing itself for an influx of 2010 models. He believes the upcoming year will produce stronger vehicle sales, especially after the first quarter.
He wants people to know that Lancaster Motor Co. isn’t going anywhere.
“We’re an ongoing franchise and we’re not in any type of wind-down mode,” he said. “We’re alive and well.”
Contact reporter Jesef Williams at email@example.com or (803) 283-1152