In one breath, he talks about the new Mercedes E300, which has a nine-speed automatic transmission behind a 300 horsepower four-cylinder engine popular in all-wheel drive, the new BMW 5 Series and the new Porsche Panamera, the first two already launched and the last one scheduled to be launched March 18 at Porsche of Kingsport. Then there’s the new Toyota Camary and Lexus LS sedan, both coming as 2018 models.
“Mercedes Benz and BMW have just brought out out new models, and Porsche is about to bring out a new model,” Hill said. And then there’s a cutting edge BMW i8 with carbon fiber body construction. The gas-electric hybrid gets 76 mpg in hybrid mode, 28 mpg in gas-only mode, had gull wing doors and will run like a race car.
Soon, these and other vehicles from his dealerships may be sold at a new location.
By this time next year, Hill said his goal is to be part of a “whole new chapter” in Kingsport vehicle and retail sales with auto mall construction at least underway at the Crossing at the intersection of Interstate 81 and 26. Stewart Taylor is developing the project, which has sat dormant for three years after grading work, although preliminary plans have gained Kingsport approval. In the mean time, however, business goes on at his Hill dealerships, including Rick Hill Imports ones that recently got facelifts and have new models to offer for sale.
“I’m just very optimistic about the community with live in now. I think a lot of people are optimistic,” Hill said in an interview Feb. 23.
“I really am going to try,” Hill said of getting things underway at the Crossing by 2018. He said the plans are obviously no secret and that his employees share available information about them with customers, although nothing is absolutely certain yet. In one way, if the auto mall marks a move of most dealers to the Crossing, it would be similar to the move starting in the 1950s and 1960s of car dealers from downtown to Stone Drive, which then was a new four-lane “Superhighway No. 1” to and from Bristol.
The Crossing would be at the intersection of the region’s only two interstates.
“I’m hoping to have everything approved in the next two months,” Hill said. “It’s nothing to brag about until you get there.”
The Gateway Review Commission and Kingpsort Planning Commission last year gave preliminary approval to the concept plan, but approval also must come from Mercedes Benz, BMW, Porsche, Lexus and Toyota. They would be joined at the new site by Don Hill Pontiac, the legacy flagship dealership Hill’s late father bought in 1971 from Red Barnes and that became a pre-owned vehicle sales and service center when General Motors ceased the Pontiac line in 2009. Toyota of Kingsport and Lexus of Kingsport also are a longtime part of the Hill family of dealerships. All the new car dealerships sells used cars, too.
“As soon as I can get the plan approved by the manufacturers, we’re going to go ahead,” Hill said.
“Maybe next year. We’ll see,” Hill said. “We’re anticipating sites for our (car dealer) neighbors.”
Although the locations are to change, he said the dealerships will keep the vehicle sales and service, including Mercedes Benz of Kingsport, which he dad bought in 1972. “I was fascinated with them,” Hill said. “I was a Pontiac guy, don’t get me wrong.” His current new cars are more than a generation away from his first new car, a 1977 Pontiac Trans Am, all black with no air conditioning. Think “Smoky and the Bandit” without stripes.
Since then, Mercedes has grown its sales nine times over although it want from 70 percent diesel sales in the 1970s to less than 10 percent now. “People are not as inclined for diesels because gas engines are so efficient,” Hill said. However, he said Mercedes maintains demand from hardcore diesel vehicle fans for their longevity, power and torque.
Don Hill got the Toyota of Kingsport franchise and opened that dealersnup in 1978, followed by BMW of Kingsport and Porsche of Kingpsort being bought in 1983 and Lexus of Kingsport being started by Don Hill in 1989.
Hill said trends in used cars include online sales and information gathers, certified late model used vehicles that carry warranties and the growth in SUV sales and steady truck sales, which he said carries over to new vehicles. He said new car sales were down about 20 percent in 2016, compared to new SUV sales up more than 20 percent and steady truck sales.
“All used cars still have a great market,” Hill said, adding that online sales and online information about vehicles has impacted used car sales and some new car ones since folks are more informed.
“We sell cars all over the United States,” Hill said of buyers who have cars shipped or fly in to pick them up.. “Most of our cars are still sold locally.”
He said the new auto mall should help boost his sales regionally and be more convenient for customers. For the three German imports, his sales territory goes west to Greeneville and Morristown, north into western Kentucky and Southwest Virginia toward Roanoke and east into western North Carolina.