Friday, November 9, 2012

Automaker’s bankruptcy stuns city Suzuki dealership


Friday November 9, 2012
Daily Mail Business Editor
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The manager of Charleston Suzuki said he and his staff are devastated by American Suzuki Motor Corp.'s surprise announcement that it will cease selling automobiles in the United States.

American Suzuki Motor made the announcement and filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection on Monday.

Ruth Lemmon, president of the West Virginia Automobile and Truck Dealers Association, said six dealerships sell Suzuki automobiles in West Virginia: Charleston Suzuki of St. Albans, Thornhill Suzuki of Chapmanville, Lewis Suzuki of Beckley, Pantili Suzuki of Princeton, Matheny Motors of Parkersburg and John Howard Motors of Morgantown.

Of the six, only Charleston Suzuki and Pantili Suzuki are total stand-alone dealerships, Lemmon said.

As stand-alones, they don't sell any other brands.

Charleston Suzuki General Manager Steve Huffman said he learned of Suzuki's decision about 9:30 p.m. Monday.

"There was no warning, no heads up," he said. "Nobody had a clue."

The dealership has 71 new cars on its MacCorkle Avenue lot.

"Right now we're just selling cars and doing business as usual," he said. "Suzuki is telling us they're going to do something to make the cars that are here disappear.

"What happened with Chrysler (in 2009) was, there was an existing dealer body left after they closed some dealerships and cars that were left would go to other dealers. That's not the case here. The way I understand it is, the way they (Suzuki) are doing Chapter 11, what's left, we'll be responsible for.

"They're supposed to come out with some kind of exit strategy for dealers by the end of the week," Huffman said.

He has heard that Suzuki may reward dealers who help clear other dealers' inventories by taking additional vehicles. "That's scary because if you don't sell them, you're going to be stuck with them."

Also, "Suzuki has basically stated that they will ask certain dealers to stay as parts and service dealers only," Huffman said. "If you do that, you can do their warranty work."

Huffman said the reaction to Suzuki's announcement has ranged from the customer who called Thursday blaming the dealership for the situation, to the customer who demanded he take back a car the dealership recently sold, to the potential customer who called to see if the dealership is conducting a 50-percent-off sale.

"The sharks are in the water," he said.

Charleston Suzuki was established a few years ago, shortly after the financial crisis that threw both Chrysler and General Motors into bankruptcy. Charles Rashid's Chrysler-Jeep-Dodge-Suzuki dealerships in Logan were wiped out with one exception - the Suzuki dealership.

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