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Published: Thursday, 3/24/2011 - Updated: 3 years ago

Local auto dealers spruce up showrooms

BY LARRY P. VELLEQUETTE
BLADE BUSINESS WRITER

Vin Devers Autohaus in Sylvania Township is investing several million dollars in its Mercedes-Benz and Audi dealerships. It is operating from its preowned auto center until work is finished this summer. Vin Devers Autohaus in Sylvania Township is investing several million dollars in its Mercedes-Benz and Audi dealerships. It is operating from its preowned auto center until work is finished this summer.
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Having survived the worst decline in auto sales in decades, several metro Toledo-area auto dealers have launched renovation and expansion plans to better position their businesses for a recovery.

From the reappearance of a brand that left the region nearly three decades ago to import and domestic-brand dealers putting new public faces on their stores, local auto dealers are investing in their facilities to greet their returning customers.

The most active upgrades under way are in Sylvania Township, where Vin Devers Autohaus is investing several million dollars in its Mercedes-Benz and Audi dealership, and where Yark Automotive Group recently opened metro Toledo's first Fiat dealership in 30 years and moved its Subaru dealership into newer, larger facilities.

Vin Devers Autohaus, 5700 Monroe St., is using the renovation to add a service entrance, a new vehicle-purchase delivery center, separate showrooms for its Mercedes-Benz and Audi vehicles, and upgraded service waiting centers, the dealership said in a written statement. The project began last month and is expected to be finished this summer, co-owner Paul Devers said. In the interim, the dealership is operating from its preowned car offices.

A few miles south, Yark Automotive this month began selling the Fiat 500 subcompact from a newly remodeled showroom at 6000 West Central Ave., the former home of the group's Subaru franchise. The new "studio-style" showroom features kiosks where customers can customize their Fiat 500 in one of more than 500,000 variations, and though its first cars have arrived, the dealership ultimately will feature a larger inventory as production of the 500 ramps up in the plant in Toluca, Mexico, where it is assembled, owner John Yark said.

Yark Automotive Group, the area's first Fiat dealership, sells the 500 from what was its Subaru showroom, which is across the street. Yark Automotive Group, the area's first Fiat dealership, sells the 500 from what was its Subaru showroom, which is across the street.
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The Fiat franchise moved in after the group's Subaru franchise moved across the street to occupy the former Saturn of Toledo building, which also received significant upgrades, Mr. Yark said.

"We're putting in all new signage by the end of the month, and on the inside, we literally went from the front of the building to the back of the building and upgraded everything. It really turned out nice," Mr. Yark said.

Yark also recently moved into its new Nissan store on the same section of West Central Avenue, adding more than 11,000 square feet of new showroom and service write-up area, along with other substantial upgrades, which, like the Fiat and Subaru locations, cost "millions and millions," Mr. Yark said.

"[We're] trying to do what we can do to get the construction industry back on its feet in northwest Ohio," Mr. Yark said.

Asked whether he was nervous about making such an investment in today's economy, Mr. Yark said he believes business will continue to improve.

"There's got to be pent-up demand. We've been scrapping more cars than we've been selling new," Mr. Yark said.

East of the river, Dunn Chevrolet Buick has not only recently upgraded an off-site used car lot at Navarre Avenue and I-280, it's moving toward a summer renovation that will bring the store in line with new requirements from General Motors Co. on how their Chevrolet-Buick stores should look, owner Greg Dunn said.

"We're supposed to start in about 90 days, and we're hoping to be done in about 90 days," Mr. Dunn said of the renovation, which will cost between $500,000 and $1 million and change the appearance "of everything a customer comes in contact with."

Among the many changes on tap, the dealership's fascia will get a new Chevy-blue wrap and threshold, its showroom area will be upgraded, as will the main service receiving area, Mr. Dunn said.

All of GM's Chevrolet, Buick, GMC, and Cadillac dealers are encouraged to adopt the new standards for their facilities and business practices under a voluntary program called Essential Brand Elements, which was launched after the automaker's 2009 bankruptcy, GM spokesman Ryndee Carney said.

Similar upgrades are either proceeding or under consideration at several area GM dealers, including Yark Chevrolet in Whitehouse. The renovations, part of which are being funded by GM, come as auto sales are rebounding from their lowest levels in 40 years in 2009.

Said Mr. Dunn: "Our sales have been going up quite a bit here in the last six months, but after what we went through, everybody is still quite gun-shy.

Contact Larry P. Vellequette at: lvellequette@theblade.com or 419-724-6091.



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