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Published: Wednesday, 9/1/2010

Area Chrysler dealers divided on Fiat

BY JULIE M. McKINNON
BLADE STAFF WRITER

One Toledo-area Chrysler dealer is interested in obtaining a new Fiat dealership, but two others seem unlikely to pursue one.

Officials from Yark Automotive Group of Sylvania Township and from the affiliates Charlie's Dodge Chrysler Jeep Inc. and Grogan's Towne Chrysler Jeep Dodge had different views Tuesday of the nationwide dealership meeting Monday in Detroit to learn about obtaining a Fiat dealership.

Fiat SpA, which now partly owns Chrysler Group LLC, intends to sell Fiat vehicles in the United States by late this year and expects to identify 165 Chrysler dealers that can sell them. Toledo is one of the targeted cities.

John Yark, vice president of Yark Automotive Group, said the dealership is looking at options and will put together a proposal.

The second step in the process would be having Alpha Romeo models to sell in 2014, he said.

Denny Amrhein, managing partner of Charlie's Dodge and Grogan's, said that meeting the automaker's demand for a separate sales team, service department, and management for a Fiat dealership would be costly.

"It's something that I'll probably look at a little more, but I doubt if I'm interested," he said. "It's going to be very expensive."

He said that if he did pursue the new dealership, it would make more sense to put it at Charlie's, where a parts showroom could be renovated and other changes could be made to accommodate.

About 400 Chrysler, Dodge, and Jeep dealers were invited to hear a presentation Monday, and they are expected to get more information in September. Interested dealers have to submit proposals by Sept. 22, and the car maker will select the winners before the end of the year.

Chrysler officials had stressed at Monday's meeting that dealers with empty stores, such as those once selling Saturns and Pontiacs, would be ideal for Fiat, Mr. Amrhein said.

The Fiat brand hasn't been sold in the United states since 1983. The company expects to sell the Fiat 500 minicar late this year. The car, to be built in Toluca, Mexico, will be made in standard, convertible, high-performance, and electric versions. Chrysler hopes to sell 50,000 of them in the first year. Pricing for the 500 wasn't announced, but it's expected to be around $15,000. Dealers were told to expect profit margins of $1,200 to $1,500 a vehicle.

Dealers chosen to sell Fiat will also get the first crack at selling Alfa Romeo when that Fiat-owned brand returns to the U.S. market in 2012.

Fiat pulled out of the United States after a string of quality problems that led to the saying that the letters in its name stood for "Fix It Again Tony." On one model, warranty repair costs wiped out any profits in the United States.

Blade news services contributed to this story.

Contact Julie M. McKinnon at:

jmckinnon@theblade.com

or 419-724-6087.



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