NAPLES — In the coming months, the former owners of Bob Taylor Jeep will enter into the complicated process of arbitration. They’ll attempt to reclaim their Jeep dealership in Naples, which Chrysler LLC shut down in June as part of its bankruptcy restructuring plan.
On Monday, Chrysler spokeswoman Kathy Graham defended the June cuts as a necessary evil, a result of a bankruptcy with few positives and less alternatives. Setting forth some of the closure rationales that dealerships have been clamoring for since the summer, she said that the decisions as to which would shut down were anything but arbitrary, and anything but easy.
Graham said several factors played a role in the determination of which dealerships would remain open, including shipments, customer satisfaction, the facility and the location.
The last two of which, she said, can be major issues, with factors such as new vehicle registration, population, market share and industry sales playing a role.
“Typically, dealers that say they’ve been in the same location 80 years, they may not be up to the facility standards, or if they carry just one line, one brand of the three or four that the company sells, they may be more service-based,” she said.
As for the owners and management of Bob Taylor Jeep, they claimed that this is all news to them. Vice President Sandra Taylor and General Manager Rodney Nettles both said that they hadn’t received any explanation as to the closure of their dealership, nor the process by which its fate was sealed.
“We haven’t received anything yet,” said Nettles.
Nettles said that, while the above described criteria can be used to judge the success of any dealership, he was not informed that those would be the standards for the closures.
The issue of carrying multiple brands is one cited by several dealers as an apparent factor in determining which dealerships remained open when the restructuring occurred. Recalling the weeks leading up to the announcement of the closures, Jon Meyers, of Naples Dodge Chrysler Jeep, then Naples Dodge Chrysler, said his dealership’s selection gave him a measure of comfort in an uneasy situation.
“I did feel very good in that we had already had two of the three brands under one roof, and I, as everybody knew, in Chrysler’s situation, they have been wanting, and working diligently, on what they call Project Genesis,” he said.
Project Genesis, Graham said, is an attempt to “get all three dealers (Chrysler, Dodge and Jeep) under one roof.”
She said the effort, which began nearly a decade ago, was simply accelerated by the bankruptcy process.
“The biggest thing was though, up until the bankruptcy, we had proceeded at a pace that made sense for the dealers,” she said. After the bankruptcy, Graham said, that pace accelerated significantly.
“We went from roughly 62 percent of our dealer network having all three brands under one roof to 80 percent as of the end of this year,” she said.
Graham said the consolidation of multiple Chrysler brands under one roof whenever possible is intended to improve customer satisfaction, and may become a requirement for most of the manufacturer’s dealers. She said that owning another manufacturer’s dealership in the same location, as the Taylors did, was also frowned upon.
“We’re fine with the dealer selling other manufacturers’ vehicles, just not out of the same location,” said Graham.
Asked to respond, Sandra Taylor called Project Genesis a “failed ideal.” Taylor said that the logic dictating that a dealership with three brands from the same manufacturer would be more profitable than a dealership with one, for either party, was flawed.
However, it wasn’t Chrysler’s logic that Taylor took issue with most, but its approach to accomplishing its goal. Taylor said that negotiating with dealers to get multiple brands under one roof is one thing, but closing them down for not doing so is another.
“Being terminated as a means to get that, that’s just not acceptable,” she said, adding that, what is sold on a lot should be an owner’s prerogative.
“It’s our property, it’s our building,” she said.
On the issue of selling other manufacturers’ vehicles from the same location, Taylor stressed that a dealer must be pragmatic to succeed.
“There are very few Chrysler products that can survive by themselves,” she said.
There may be a long road to find a resolution to the dispute. The dealership contends that its doors were shut unfairly; the manufacturer, that the closures, while regrettable, were necessary for the company’s long-term stability. On or by Jan. 26, Chrysler will be required to furnish the exact standards by which each individual dealership was shut down, and the process will begin.
However, even if Bob Taylor Jeep is brought back from the brink, there may be a larger issue for the one-brand dealership still looming.
According to Graham, “100 percent of (Chrysler) stores will be Project Genesis by the end of 2011.”