Closed Dealers Seek U.S. Help

Auto industry experts view a reorganization of dealership networks at Ford, GM and Chrysler as a key component to nursing the industry back to health. That has meant taking on the dealership sector, which has a powerful voice in state capitals around the country.

The Washington Post
September 26, 2009

Closed Dealers Seek U.S. Help
Talks Set on Future of Shuttered GM, Chrysler Franchises
Thomas Heath

TammyDarvish.jpg

Tammy Darvish, left, of Darcars Automotive Group, talks with her assistant, Courtney Wallin. Darvish has spearheaded an effort to help closed dealers. (By Kevin Clark — The Washington Post)

A group representing closed Chrysler and General Motors franchises is appealing to lawmakers and other government officials in preparation for talks that begin Wednesday to decide what, if anything, will be done for automobile dealers cut off by the industry's restructuring.

The Committee to Restore Dealers Rights is seeking federal legislation or a negotiated solution to reverse the dealer closings that GM and Chrysler ordered starting in June. If they can't get the closings reversed, the group says it may seek compensation or other remedies.

Representatives from GM and Chrysler, which were taken over by the federal government earlier this year as they headed toward bankruptcy, will participate in the discussions along with federal lawmakers, the Obama administration officials and car dealers.

"We've got everybody at the table, and we are hoping we can get an agreement that will allow these dealerships to be treated fairly, or at least have the opportunity to get a fair hearing and appeal their closure," said Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), who worked on the legislation. "To date, we haven't seen a lot of good faith from the manufacturers, but we're hoping that will change."

A Chrysler spokesman said the company had nothing to add beyond a statement it released last week, which said the manufacturer had been in communication with House and Senate Democrats. According to the statement, Chrysler is "available to discuss with the principal parties involved the benefits of a realigned and efficient dealer network to the Chrysler Group. We also are open to discussion on all of the relevant concerns with regard to the discontinued dealers."

Auto industry experts view a reorganization of dealership networks at Ford, GM and Chrysler as a key component to nursing the industry back to health. That has meant taking on the dealership sector, which has a powerful voice in state capitals around the country.

Tammy Darvish, vice president of Darcars Automotive Group of Silver Spring, has spearheaded the effort to help closed dealers. Darvish began a YouTube campaign last week that included videos of former dealers talking about their lost franchises. "Our attitude is to go into the meeting with GM, Chrysler, the House and Senate leadership, and try to get dealers' rights restored," Darvish said. "This is greed versus mercy."

She also sent lawmakers clippings from newspapers that advertised a new Montgomery County Chrysler-Jeep-Dodge franchise, which Chrysler recently awarded to the Criswell Automotive Group. The new franchise opened just a couple of miles from two dealerships that Chrysler closed a few months ago: Montrose Dodge and Fitzgerald Automotive's Chrysler-Jeep franchise.

Coming on the eve of next week's talks, "the timing of the advertisement was inappropriate," said Darvish. "This isn't over."

Harry Criswell, owner of Criswell Automotive, said he has lost more than $5 million due to the General Motors bankruptcy and said he is not trying to capitalize on the suffering of other automobile dealers.

"We were offered an opportunity, and it's a good opportunity, and we took advantage of the opportunity from a business point of view," Criswell said. "I feel sorry for those guys. I'm not here to hurt anybody. I just happen to be the guy stuck in the middle of it."

Rick Shaub, whose family has owned Montrose Automotive since 1945, said he was especially hurt by the Criswell ad because it so closely followed the loss of his family's Dodge franchise three months ago.

"When you frame it in the scenario that my family had this business for 65 years and it was taken from me at great cost, … it's like every day I'm still getting kicked," Shaub said. "And they turn around and give all my goodwill and all my business to the guy down the street without compensation — it's unfathomable."

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/09/25/AR2009092503792.html?hpid=moreheadlines


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