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Robert Trigaux

Anguish at targeted Florida Chrysler dealers

Chryslerstpetejeepchryslerzuppa Wake up and good morning... HONK IF YOUR DEALERSHIP'S CLOSING. The scene -- a death sentence for many Florida Chrysler dealerships -- was played out across the Sunshine State Thursday to the disbelief and anger of many longtime dealer owners who thought, for sure, they would not be targeted for closure. A Florida-wide roundup:

* St. Petersburg: "We've all got to live with it. It's pretty cut and dry. Our franchise extension was rejected,'' William Douglas, owner of the St. Pete Jeep Chrysler dealership, which employs about 50 people, told the St. Petersburg Times. "I feel the administration's goal is to protect the auto workers union. The dealers are being negatively impacted with no compensation," he said. "Before we got the letter, I certainly thought we had a chance.'' (Photo: St. Pete Jeep Chrysler dealership by Chris Zuppa of the St. Petersburg Times.) Three Tampa Bay dealerships are slated to close, reports the Times.

* Miami: ''I was surprised, concerned and upset, in that order,'' Carlos Planas, Tamiami Chrysler Jeep Dodge's president and CEO, told the Miami Herald, on learning of Chrysler's decision. ``I didn't think that was something they would do after 20 years of being the largest volume dealer in Dade (County), third in the state and top 100 nationwide.'' Planas says he's also one of the biggest Hispanic-owned Chrysler dealers in the nation. In all, four South Florida dealerships were targeted.

* Fort Lauderdale: "It's just wrong. They're terminating one of the best dealers they've had in 35 years," Mark Hodos, president of Monarch Dodge in Lauderdale Lakes, told the Sun-Sentinel.

* Orlando: An especially hard hit area with eight dealerships slated to be shut down. "Somebody is making a big mistake," Scott Dance, president of Bob Dance Dodge in Sanford, told the Orlando Sentinel. "There are some great dealers on this (termination) list," said Dance, whose family has been selling Chrysler products for 40 years.

* Jacksonville: "I did not want to become a Fiat dealer," said owner Jack Caruso of Caruso’s Chrysler Dodge Jeep, one of two area dealers listed. But Caruso already had decided to part ways with Chrysler and plans to continue to sell and service used vehicles until he can agree on a franchise deal with a foreign manufacturer. "I've been disillusioned for the last couple years on Chrysler and their dealings," he told the Jacksonville Times Union.

And that's just a small sampling of the upset in Florida where nearly three dozen dealerships will end their Chrysler ties. Consider what's happening across the country, where 789 dealerships must cease selling Chrysler products by about June 9.

Florida even has a member of Congress on Chrysler’s dealership hit list. U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan, R-Fla., a businessman who has owned car dealerships since 1992, learned Thursday that his Venice Dodge dealership is to be terminated. “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.” More on Buchanan's backlash here.

All sad stories. But Chrysler's sales trajectory and its excess supply of dealers have been obvious for years. It's a little late to pull the jobs card.

-- Robert Trigaux, Times Business Columnist

[Last modified: Tuesday, June 1, 2010 11:24am]


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