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Third deal's the charmer for Ferman

Even though it has had two deals to buy car dealers collapse in recent weeks, Ferman Motor Car Co. still wants to grow. And Wednesday, it completed a deal, adding a second Nissan dealership to its stable.

Ferman bought Sutherlin Nissan for an undisclosed price, closing the deal Tuesday and changing the signs at the dealership on Fletcher Avenue in Tampa.

Marietta, Ga.-based Sutherlin Auto Management is in the process of selling off some of its dealerships, having sold Sutherlin Toyota in Pinellas Park to Republic Industries in October.

Ferman and Sutherlin had talked informally about the small Nissan dealership for more than a year, said Jim Ferman Jr., Ferman's president. With Ferman's New Port Richey Nissan dealership, Wednesday's purchase means Ferman now has Nissan outlets in two area counties.

The new dealerships' 100 employees will be kept, giving Ferman nearly 1,000 employees spread across its 15 dealerships. Ferman expects to report more than $500-million in sales over a full year with addition of the Nissan dealership.

Ferman's plans to buy Lindell Motors Inc. and the Courtesy Group fell through because of financing problems. Wednesday's purchase was just one dealership, as opposed to trying to buy several at once. The company paid cash for Sutherlin Nissan, Ferman said.

"Let's just say you try on a few suits before you settle on one you like," Ferman said of the failed Lindell and Courtesy deals. Courtesy was sold to Asbury Auto Group, a fast-growing Philadelphia-based automotive chain, last week. Lindell is still an independent company.

Ferman plans to continue buying dealerships in order to compete in the rapidly consolidating new- and used-car market. Jim Ferman Jr. said he couldn't comment on speculation that his company would sell stock to the public in order to raise money for more acquisitions.

"I'm not Wayne Huizenga," Ferman told employees at the Nissan dealership Wednesday, referring to the chairman and chief executive of Republic Industries. "But we have a lot of opportunity here. It's an exciting time to be in the business. Unlike when NationsBank bought Barnett, we don't close down branches and lay off tellers."

Ferman's busy year:

DECEMBER 1996

+ Buys Wauchula Ford in Wauchula

JANUARY 1997:

+ Opens Suzuki of Tampa after buying rights to sell Suzukis

JUNE 1997:

+ Buys Ernie Haire Jeep-Eagle in Tampa

+ Renames six Ferman affiliate dealerships under the Ferman name

SEPTEMBER 1997:

+ Deals to purchase Lindell Motors and Courtesy Auto fall apart

+ Opens a Harley-Davidson superstore in Tampa

Source: Ferman Motor Car Co.

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