2 targeted dealerships in Middle Georgia expect to stay open; others are unaffected

Chrysler’s announcement that it will sever ties with 13 Georgia dealerships, including two in Middle Georgia, came as a surprise to those selected, said Jason Childre of Milledgeville’s Childre Chrysler Dodge Jeep Nissan dealership.

“We had absolutely no advance warning,” Childre said Thursday afternoon. “We saw the list on CNN today before we received the letter from them.”

Thomaston is also losing its Chrysler franchise, along with dealerships in Augusta, Claxton, Clayton, Cleveland, Dalton, Decatur, Jackson, Jasper, Savannah and two in Newnan.

Middle Georgia Chrysler dealers in Macon, Warner Robins and Perry will retain their franchises.

Childre’s family has sold Chrysler products since opening the dealership in 1984. It added the Nissan franchise in 1991, he said.

“We’re not sure why they chose us,” Childre said. “We’re very financially sound and have been a good dealership for them.”

Losing new Chrysler, Dodge and Jeep products will not drive the dealership out of business, he vowed.

“We are not going to close. I want all our customers to know that. We’ve been here 25 years and will stay here. We’re financially stable. We still have the Nissan franchise, and we’ll go on with it and our used cars. We just won’t be selling the new, Italian Chryslers from a bankrupt company.”

Childre said the dealership may also look to add other new car franchises. The local Chevrolet dealership declared bankruptcy and closed recently, leaving Milledgeville without a Chevrolet dealer.

“As all this shakes out (with the car industry and the recession), we’ll see where we’re at and maybe seek another franchise. But no matter what, we’ll be here serving our local customers.”

Daniel Windham, sales manager for the Thomaston dealership, said because it also sells Fords, it will be able to stay in business with that line.

“Ford’s always been the biggest part of our business, so we’ll be fine,” he said. “We hadn’t ordered any new Dodges in a few months anyway, waiting to see what would happen. We just want everyone to know we’ll be here for our customers to service whatever they have bought from us.”

Three other midstate Chrysler dealers received word that they will retain their franchises — Bill Butler Chrysler Dodge Jeep in Warner Robins, Jeff Smith Chrysler Dodge Jeep Kia in Perry and Five Star Chrysler Dodge Jeep in Macon.

“It’s a relief,” said Jim Butler of the Warner Robins dealership. “We’ve been playing it day by day, not sure what Chrysler would do. We felt we should be safe, but not knowing what criteria they were using, you are never at ease.”Butler said he’s been told that more cuts are not planned.

“It is my understanding this should be the end of it. They’re cutting 25 percent of their network, and that is supposed to leave them the size they think they need to be.”

Butler said pulling the franchises from Thomaston and Milledgeville probably won’t have a direct effect on his dealership in terms of customers coming from there to shop in Warner Robins.

“But the cuts should help Chrysler be able to offer more incentives we can pass on to our customers, which would help our business,” he said.

Jeff Smith also said he felt his dealership would remain in Chrysler’s lineup because his overall business has been as good as ever over the last couple of years, despite the recession.

“But when you are dealing with worldwide companies and the federal government, you never know what might happen. But I was not really nervous,” he said.

Smith said he believes the changes Chrysler is making as it restructures will make it a better, stronger company, but that it may be a couple of years before most see a lot of changes.

“For now, we just go on selling cars like we have been.”