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Merced's Ron Smith Jeep on chopping block in Chrysler-Fiat merger

Of 13 Chrysler dealerships in the central and southern San Joaquin Valley, only two appear to be casualties of the struggling automaker's bankruptcy plan to shed about a quarter of its national sales network.

In documents filed today with a U.S. District Bankruptcy Court in New York, Liberty Chrysler Jeep Dodge in Hanford and Ron Smith Jeep in Merced are on a list of 789 dealerships whose franchise agreements will not be picked up as part of Chrysler's merger with Italian automaker Fiat.

Ron Smith Buick, Pontiac, GMC has not yet received word if its Chrysler franchise with be closed, said Nick Smith, Ron Smith' s son and an assistant manager at the dealership. But what ever happens to their Jeep line, which is owned by Chrysler, Smith says they are not going anywhere.

"No, we're not closing," he said. "We're definitely open for business." Even if their Jeep franchise is closed they still have GMC, said Smith. None the less, losing Jeep would be a blow. "If we do see Jeep go, it will be sad," he said. "My dad's been with Jeep since they were American Motors. We've been with them pretty much from the start."

The list is part of a motion by Chrysler asking for a court order allowing it to reject the agreements, effective June 9.

The dealerships on the chopping block, Chrysler attorneys state, "lack the operational, market, facility and linemake characteristics necessary to best contribute to the ongoing dealer network under current or future ownership."

Chrysler reports it has 3,181 dealers across the country. "Although the debtors' large and extensive Domestic Dealer Network provides increased outlets for the sale of the debtors' products, its size and scope has created significant challenges as market conditions and demographic factors have changed over time," the company's attorneys said in their motion.

The company said some longtime dealerships were no longer in locations suited for growth or sales, and that others had become outdated. About 90% of the company's sales in the U.S. are generated by about half of its dealers, according to court documents.

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