Local dealers differ on GM plan, future

Wednesday, April 29, 2009
Pontiac G6 and Chevrolet Malibu automobiles are shown Monday at the Orion Assembly plant in Orion Township, Mich. General Motors says it will cut 21,000 U.S. factory jobs by next year and phase out its Pontiac brand. (Paul Sancya ~ Associated Press)

News that General Motors will cut jobs and phase out the Pontiac brand by the end of 2010 is drawing mixed reactions among area dealerships that sell the company's cars.

"They're struggling and doing everything they can to make it," said Jeff Williams, general manager of Autry Morlan Pontiac Buick in Sikeston, Mo. The Pontiac brand makes up about 10 percent of his dealership's sales.

"GM makes way too many cars now," he said. "Those brands compete with one another, and eliminating Pontiac will solve some of that problem."

Despite $15.4 billion in government loans, GM may land in bankruptcy court.

In a video conference telecasted to its dealerships Tuesday, company officials said they plan to close between 1,000 and 1,200 underperforming U.S. dealerships. They also expect 400 dealers to close voluntarily, another 500 to be consolidated into other dealers and 500 Hummer and Saturn dealers to be lost when the two brands close or are sold. GM plans to focus its efforts on four brands -- Buick, Cadillac, Chevrolet and GMC.

The company also said it will eliminate 21,000 positions, shut down 13 plants and give the government at least 50 percent of its stock in exchange for $10 billion the government has lent the company. GM has until the June 1 government deadline to finalize its plan.

While Williams is hopeful about the future, other dealers aren't as optimistic.

Tim Wibbenmeyer, general manager of Keller Chevrolet Buick Pontiac Chrysler Dodge Jeep in Perryville, Mo., said even though the government has lent GM billions of dollars, he's uncertain about the company's future.

"Everyone is holding out and waiting to see what will happen," Wibbenmeyer said. "The uncertainty is hurting us more than anything."

Brandon Long, sales and finance manager of Crown Chevrolet in Marble Hill, Mo., had hoped GM would not eliminate the Pontiac brand. But he understands the move.

"A lot of the younger generation like myself prefer the Pontiac," Long said. "If they could combine several bands together like the sporty for the younger crowd with the luxury that appeals to another demographic, it would be a win-win for both. It's hard to be competitive with all the brands GM has, though I don't know if they have too many."

Long believes communities with small populations, such as Marble Hill, which has about 1,500 residents, identify with the local car dealership.

"We're a small town, and a lot of people like to keep their business locally," Long said. "I know a lot of people think it's more convenient to stay here rather than travel to Cape Girardeau to conduct their business."

Long said he will keep selling cars and hope for the best.

"Right now we're OK," Long said. "No one has security forever, but we have to work every deal for its fullest and serve customers in the right way."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.



Pertinent addresses:

2505 E. Malone Ave., Sikeston, MO

1795 S. Perryville Blvd., Perryville, MO

100 Conrad St., Marble Hill, MO

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