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Some car dealers dropped, some dodge bullet

BRADENTON — 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 nationwide.

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

But good news was celebrated at Firkins Chrysler Thursday when Bob Firkins, a third generation Chrysler dealer, was notified at 10 a.m. that his Bradenton dealership was secure.

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

“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.

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 Volks- wagen dealer as well as a Dodge dealer so what we’re planning is to expand our Volkswagen business and pre-owned business and carry on.”

General Motors dealerships are the next target in the distressed auto industry. Letters to about 1,000 dealers are expected today saying whether their franchise agreement will be dropped when they expire at the end of September 2010.

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 Thursday. “This action, if implemented, could put approximately 150,000 people out of work.”

Sarasota Chrysler and Venice Nissan Dodge will remain open as independent 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 can survive selling Nissans and used cars.

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

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 sell 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.