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Published: Tuesday, 5/6/2008

2 dealers to share franchises: Grogan to sell Jeep, Yark to offer Dodge

BY LARRY P. VELLEQUETTE
BLADE BUSINESS WRITER
The agreement between Grogan and its Sylvania Township partner is part of Chrysler LLC's Project Genesis. The agreement between Grogan and its Sylvania Township partner is part of Chrysler LLC's Project Genesis.
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When businesses expand their offerings in normal times, they generally celebrate with big announcements, maybe a party, a little fanfare, some balloons - the works.

But these are not normal times in the automotive industry, and recently two local auto dealers announced their upcoming expansions with, of all things, telephone on-hold messages.

Yark Automotive Group, in Sylvania Township, and Grogan Towne Chrysler, in north Toledo, are each touting to telephone customers placed on hold the arrival this year of new vehicles for their lots.

Yark, which sells both Chrysler and Jeep products, plans to begin selling Dodge vehicles at about the first of the year. Grogan, which has been selling Dodge vehicles since it purchased a local franchise from Vin Devers at the end of February, will begin selling Jeep products at roughly the same time.

The two dealerships - both of which already sell Chryslers - have agreed to share their individual Dodge and Jeep franchises with each other to create the first two of what they say ultimately will be three combined Chrysler LLC dealerships in Toledo under a plan Chrysler calls Project Genesis.

"We'll have Dodge here the first of the year," said Doug Kearns, general manager for Yark Automotive Group. "I think that puts us in a good position to move forward and better serve our customers."

Denny Amrhein, general manager/partner at Grogan, said he can see results in two months from the addition of the Dodge nameplate to his Telegraph Road facility. The addition of a Jeep franchise will open up more potential sales, even in a depressed economy, he said.

"When we got the Dodge franchise, we went from selling 800 or 1,000 new vehicles a year to between 150 and 170 a month. Our business doubled," Mr. Amrhein said. "Toledo's a pretty big Chrysler-Dodge-Jeep area. It's nice when you've got all the [product] lines, because then you cover everything."

Unveiled in February by Jim Press, Chrysler vice chairman and president, Project Genesis is an effort to reconfigure Chrysler's dealer network, moving from many selling individual brands to a few selling the entire Chrysler lineup.

The revamped network is supposed to increase profits for dealerships while broadening the vehicle lineups they offer.

"In the end, we will have a more viable dealer body focused on the customer," Mr. Press told the National Automobile Dealers Association this year.

"When that happens, the customer, dealer, and company win."

When the changes at Yark and Grogan are fully in effect, the Toledo area will have just two remaining Chrysler-product dealers selling only single product lines. Ed Schmidt Auto Group sells Jeep products in Perrysburg, and Charlie's Dodge, in Maumee, continues to sell Dodge cars, trucks, and vans.

Since Project Genesis was officially unveiled in February, the number of dealers has decreased from 3,585 to 3,511, Chrysler spokesman Curtrise Garner said.

Chrysler is not the only domestic automaker working hard to thin its dealership ranks. Ford Motor Corp. has been meeting with local groups of dealers across the country for 18 months, urging them to consolidate, spokesman Marisa Bradley explained.

"At end of 2007, we had 4,056 dealerships," she said. "We don't necessarily have a goal of how many dealers we need. It's strictly a voluntary process, where we're going into a region and meeting with dealers on a one-on-one basis."

In the case of Ford, those consolidation efforts haven't reached the Toledo market yet, but will eventually, Ms. Bradley said.

She could not speculate on which, if any, local Ford dealers might be on the sale block. A spokesman for the Toledo Automobile Dealers Association also could not comment on any potential closures.

As for the phone-message announcements of the addition of Dodge and Jeep to the Grogan and Yark product offerings, Mr. Amrhein admitted that it was an unorthodox way to roll out long-term business plans. But, he said, he has an excuse.

"Yark started it," Mr. Amrhein said. "I was just responding."

Contact Larry P. Vellequette at:

lvellequette@theblade.com

or 419-724-6091.



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