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Rep. Buchanan losing one of his car dealerships

Rep. Vern Buchanan, R-Sarasota, a businessman who has owned car dealerships since 1992, learned Thursday that his Venice Dodge dealership was among those scheduled to be terminated by Chrysler.

“It’s an outrage. It’s not about me. I’m going to be fine,” said Buchanan, the dealership’s majority owner. “You’re talking over 100,000 jobs. We’re supposed to be in the business of creating jobs, not killing jobs.”

Buchanan owns five dealership locations in Florida and North Carolina. He once owned 23 car franchises and sold off about 60 percent of his car dealerships before entering Congress. His Dodge dealership in Venice also includes a Nissan store.

“This doesn’t do anything but hurt Chrysler. This doesn’t help Chrysler. And they’re going to be hurting a lot of working families,” said Buchanan, who was first elected to Congress in 2006 to a seat previously held by Rep. Katherine Harris, R-Fla.

While many dealers learned the news through United Parcel Service letters, Buchanan found out from a House colleague.

Rep. Candice Miller, R-Mich., ran into Buchanan and told him, “I heard you’re going to lose your Dodge franchise.”

“I said, ‘Oh, really?’” Buchanan recounted.

Shelby Curtsinger, the Dodge dealership’s operating partner, said he was stunned by the decision because the dealership had been profitable since it opened in 1999 and typically sells about 700 vehicles a year, more than twice the sales of an average Chrysler dealership.

Curtsinger said he and his wife sank their life’s savings into the dealership, which employs 60 people.

“This could very well put us out of business,” Curtsinger said.

Elsewhere in the area, Bob Boast Dodge Volkswagen in Bradenton will now have a shorter name.

The dealership was notified Thursday it will no longer be a Dodge dealer as Chrysler canceled 789 car dealership agreements.

Sarasota Chrysler and Venice Nissan Dodge, which is owned by Buchanan, also had their agreements dropped by the automaker.

Bob Boast will remain open as a Volkswagen dealer, said Jim Keedy, franchise owner of the dealership at 4827 14th St. W.

“We’ve been expecting to receive the letter that we received this morning,” Keedy said. “We’re a Volkswagen dealer as well as a Dodge dealer so what we’ve planning is to expand our Volkswagen business and pre-owned business and carry on.”

General Motors is next to issue warning letters.

The automaker is expected to issue letters to about 1,000 dealers today that their franchise agreement will be dropped when they expire in October 2010, according to the Detroit Free Press.

Frank Underwood, sales manager for Red Hoagland Pontiac-GMC in Bradenton, said he and company officials are confident the dealership will remain open.

“Red Hoagland is here to stay,” Underwood said. “They’ve been in the area for 27 years, they’ve got a good reputation. I think you’re going to find out some of who the big players are in town as far as customer satisfaction, and repeat and referral business.”

Buchanan, R-Sarasota, said the closures will worsen unemployment and degrade the viability of auto manufacturers.

“Each dealership creates an average of 52 neighborhood jobs,” Buchanan said in a news release. “This action, if implemented, could put approximately 150,000 people out of work.”

Sarasota Chrysler and Venice Nissan Dodge will remain open as indpenedent franchises, but it won’t be easy said Shelby Curtsinger, operating partner for Venice Nissan Dodge.

“It’s going to be very difficult for us with our expense structure to make it work if they jam all those cars on us,” Curtsinger said.

Chrysler’s franchise agreement with the Venice dealership ends June 9, and Curtsinger said the automaker will not buy back vehicles or auto parts from the company.

“We’ve got to eat $3 million worth of new Dodges, we can sell them but they’re not going to give us any rebates of up to $11,000 on them,” Curtsinger said. “Meanwhile, they’ll be giving rebates to the other dealerships. It would be comical to try to sell those.”

Curtsinger, who has 62 employees, said they hope the dealership could survive selling Nissans and used cars.

Company officials from Sarasota Chrysler did not return messages seeking comment.

Bob Firkins, a third generation Chrysler dealer, was notified at 10 a.m. his dealership Firkins Chrysler was secure for Bradenton.

The dealership, which has been in Bradenton for 56 years, rated high in criteria that included sales, customer satisfaction, financial ability and facility.

“I thought we would remain open,” Firkins said. “We’ve been in business a long time and we’ve done a good job for Chrysler and ourselves. Certainly, it’s always a relief to hear officially, particularly when people from out of town are making decisions affecting dealerships.”

His staff of 82 employees was also relieved by the decision.

“I’ve got a lot of happy employees and families,” Firkins said.

Keedy said the Bob Boast Dodge dealership has been in town since 1963, and the Boast family had been in the Dodge business for nearly 70 years.

However, lately Volkswagens have been getting more attention from gas-conscious consumers, Keedy said.

“For the first time in our history in the last seven months our Volkswagen sales have outpaced our Dodge sales,” Keedy said. “We would always rather have two lines of vehicles because you can attract a larger group of customers but the truth is, Dodge has been more of a minor part of our business in the last year.”

Keedy said Chrysler has offered to relocate Dodges that he can’t in the next couple of weeks to other Florida dealerships.

He said he plans to mark down about 20 2008 Dodge vehicles left on the lot.

“We’re going to make 20 people in Bradenton very happy,” he said.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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