2008-10-23 / Front Page

Thomas To Drop Ford/Mercury Franchise Here

Will remain open as Great Cove Autos
By Jean Snyder STAFF WRITER

This Ford sign at Thomas Ford will soon come down as the business drops its Ford/Mercury franchise.
Fourteen months after closing its Chevrolet franchise, the Thomas dealership near McConnellsburg has announced that it will discontinue its Ford/Mercury franchise within the next 30 to 45 days and will deal exclusively in used vehicles.

Bedford County auto dealership owner Mark Thomas purchased the franchise from D.A. "Andy" Washabaugh in 2000, and later moved the business from its Lincoln Way West location to a new facility just north of McConnellsburg adjacent to what was then the Thomas Chevrolet dealership. Prior to that sale, the Ford dealership had been in the Washabaugh family since 1932 when Andy's father purchased the franchise. Andy then purchased the business from his father in 1961. Washabaugh believes there may have been as many as two former owners of a Ford franchise here prior to his father's dealership. The discontinuance of the Ford franchise will leave the county with only one new car dealership, Richards Auto Sales, in a county which, for many years, offered new vehicles from all of the "big three" domestic automakers. Richards Auto Sales holds the Chrysler/Jeep franchise.

The dealership has apparently fallen victim to difficult economic times, both nationally and locally. According to Chuck Robertson, general manager of the McConnellsburg dealership, Ford Motor Co., because of its economic position and with its stock selling at only $2 per share, is no longer offering incentives to dealerships that could assist in the sale of new vehicles. As recently as 18 months ago, Ford stock was selling at $18 to $20 per share.

Washabaugh agreed with Robert- son's assessment, saying that all of the big three companies, General Motors, Ford and Chrysler, have failed to support small dealers in recent years. He said that expenses keep increasing, especially in small dealerships, fewer cars are being sold with the current credit crunch and yet the price of the new cars to the dealers "just keeps going up." He stressed that this is a problem with the domestic car dealerships nationwide. "I hate to see it go," Washabaugh said of the closing, "but the times are changing."

Robertson stressed that Thomas will remain open and will specialize in the sale and maintenance of used cars. The business name will change to Great Cove Autos, according to Robertson, and the used car inventory will expand from a current 40- 50 to 80-100.

Robertson said there has been a

real decline nationwide and locally in domestic car sales in past

months. For example, he said, the local dealership sells about six used cars to every one new car. He also said that new car sales have declined from 12 to 15 per month to only 6 to 8 per month. He said the profit from the sales is just not enough to cover the overhead of having a new car franchise. He cited training expenses and a cost of up to $5,000 per month in interest on inventory as some of the overhead involved.

Although Great Cove Autos will continue to do vehicle repair and maintenance work, it will not be permitted to do warranty work on new Ford/Mercury products. However, Robertson said, "We will continue to work with our customers and will make sure their vehicles under warranty get to a dealership for repair." He also said they would make sure that customers have vehicles to drive while the repairs are being made. There are Ford dealerships in both Chambersburg and in Bedford.

He also said the Carquest auto parts business will remain open as well as the detailing portion of the business. "All services will remain except for the Ford/Mercury franchise and warranty repair," he said. The hours will remain the same as well as the telephone numbers.

Robertson said the number of employees will be cut by 24 to 21. He said there will only be three layoffs and added, "We have told those three employees that we hope this to be temporary and that once we get reorganized, we hope to call them back." All current sales staff will remain, he added.

"We're excited about getting into the used car business on a larger scale," he said. He also cited Internet sales as being up and said just recently the dealership had sold used cars over the Internet to customers from South Carolina and Virginia. He said Great Cove Autos will specialize in lease cars turned in, rental cars and executive cars and will offer domestic vehicles as well as imports.

In the meantime, Robertson said the dealership will continue to sell off new-car inventory at cost in order to move them off the lot. The sale of the new vehicles will continue until the details of turning in the franchise have been completed or for approximately 30 to 45 days.

In August 2007, when Thomas Chevrolet announced it would close its Chevrolet franchise in Mc- Connellsburg, Thomas officials cited the fact that "the auto industry has been plagued for years with declining sales based on domestic and international pressure" as the reason for giving up the franchise. It is believed that loss of that franchise marked the first time since the 1920s that Chevrolets had not been sold in Fulton County.

Robertson said that other Thomas locations, including the Chevrolet and Cadillac franchises in Bedford and the Buick franchise in Johnstown, will remain open and will not be affected by the closing of Thomas Ford here.

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