Chrysler debacle takes down dealers

Three Northern San Joaquin Valley and foothill auto dealers are among 789 that Chrysler will sever ties with in the next month.

Richardson Dodge Chrysler Jeep in Oakdale, Mother Lode Motors Chrysler Dodge Jeep Kia in Sonora and Ron Smith Buick Pontiac GMC Jeep in Merced are on the troubled car-maker's cut list.

But just because they were targeted, doesn't necessarily mean they are closing. Representatives for Mother Lode Motors and Ron Smith Buick Pontiac GMC Jeep said they plan to stay open and continue to sell their non-Chrysler brands as well as used cars.

Richardson Dodge Chrysler Jeep in Oakdale, which sells only Chrysler-brand new cars, declined comment Thursday about its status.

For the dealers on Chrysler's list, it means they will no longer be Chrysler franchises and the carmaker will stop supplying inventory, parts and support. The company will sever ties with the listed dealers June 9.

Mother Lode Motors dealer Nathan Flake, whose family has owned the company for 40 years, received his notification from Chrysler at 10 a.m. sharp via United Parcel Service.

"For a couple of weeks now (Chrysler) has been talking about it," Flake said. "For a week or so they said it was coming. The letter today came with a big red stamp on it, so we knew."

Flake said the dealership will keep selling new Kias and used cars. He said 75 percent of his business is in previously owned vehicles.

"Most people know us for our used cars anyway," he said. "I think it is going to be difficult, but we'll make it through."

Ron Smith Buick Pontiac GMC Jeep had not received word Thursday that its Chrysler franchise will be closed. But Nick Smith, Ron Smith's son and an assistant manager, told the Merced Sun-Star that whatever happens to its Chrysler-owned Jeep line, the dealership would remain open.

"No, we're not closing," he said. "If we do see Jeep go, it will be sad. My dad's been with Jeep since they were American Motors. We've been with them pretty much from the start."

For dealers who plan to remain open without Chrysler, one of their biggest concerns is what to do with the leftover inventory. Flake said he has some 50 Chrysler vehicles on his lot. He said the company said in its letter that it would "help facilitate the liquidation of vehicles," but he wasn't optimistic about how much assistance he would receive.

Flake also wasn't sure how the loss of Chrysler would affect his staff of about 20 employees. For customers, however, it means that the only Chrysler dealership and service center in Tuolumne County is closing.

More business for survivors

The move by the automaker means the valley is left with only a handful of Chrysler dealerships: Modesto's Central Valley Automotive, Manteca's Cabral Chrysler Jeep Suzuki, Tracy Chrysler Jeep Dodge and Merced's Razzari Dodge Chrysler.

Turlock lost its only Chrysler dealership in December when the Turlock Auto Plaza closed. In October, Friendly Chevrolet in Escalon and Curt Hughes' Generation Motors in Modesto, which sold Isuzu, Kia and Lincoln-Mercury, closed their doors.

For the surviving dealers, the closures could mean more business. Central Valley Automotive owner John Gardner, whose dealership sells Chrysler, Jeep, Dodge, Nissan, Hyundai, Volkswagen and Infiniti, said his shops would be able to handle all warranties, maintenance and service for the closing franchises.

"My heart go out to the dealers, communities and families that aren't going to be moving forward," Gardner said. "I have a profound sense of sadness of what has gone on."

The Merced Sun-Star contributed to this report.

Bee staff writer Marijke Rowland can be reached at or 578-2284.