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Alley's moves on without Chrysler

Sharon Hayes • Jun 13, 2009 at 12:00 AM

KINGSPORT — This September, Wallace Alley was planning to mark his 60th anniversary as a Chrysler dealer.

Now, he’ll celebrate 60 years in the car business — without the Chrysler nameplate.

Alley’s was one of 789 Chrysler dealerships nationwide that lost its franchise June 9 as part of the automaker’s bankruptcy plan.

On Friday, Wallace Alley’s son, Doug, said the dealership is not about to close. It still has two franchises — the Saab and Jaguar brands. And it plans to continue selling used vehicles and offering service and parts support.

“We’ve got a large database of customers — almost 14,000 that we feel confident will want to continue to come to us for service and parts support. So we’re not closing,” Doug Alley said.

His father Wallace started a Plymouth DeSoto dealership — the precursor to Chrysler — in Church Hill in 1949.

In 1960 he moved the business to Kingsport and has operated here ever since.

Doug Alley said the past few weeks have been difficult.

“Both from an emotional perspective as well as from an operational perspective, it’s been a very difficult couple of months. This week was simply sort of the culmination of the deal,” Doug Alley said. “We’ve been on an emotional roller coaster since Chrysler announced the bankruptcy.”

He said the Alley’s dealership has sold most of its Chrysler and Dodge vehicles in recent weeks, either to customers or to other dealerships.

“We’ve got a few units left that we will be selling at bargain prices,” he said.

The dealership also has a few demonstrator vehicles to sell.

Meanwhile, the business hopes to offset its lost revenue from Chrysler and Dodge deals by boosting its other businesses.

“Our intent is to continue the same way we have for 60 years and replace the revenue represented by Chrysler Dodge sales with increased Saab and Jaguar sales, and increased used car business,” Doug Alley said.

“And we believe that most of our customers will continue to come to us for service and parts,” he said.

The Saab franchise poses another question mark for Alley’s, which has been a Saab dealership since 1981. As part of its bankruptcy plan, General Motors is now trying to sell the Saab nameplate.

Doug Alley said he’s hopeful a buyer will be found.

“That’s not something we’re counting on until it happens, but we’re hopeful,” Doug Alley said. “We’ve got lots of good Saab customers, and we would be hopeful that GM can make a deal with somebody that can make it work.”

Jaguar, Alley’s other franchise, is owned by Indian company Tata, which acquired the Jaguar nameplate along with the Land Rover brand from Ford Motor Co. in 2008.

Alley’s also operates a used car business at Auto Max on Stone Drive. Asked if he’ll consolidate the two dealerships, Doug Alley said that’s “under discussion.”

“It’s probably apparent to people that we’ve been drawing the inventory down there. But that’s by design. We’re just being really conservative with the operation of the business,” he said.

He said Alley’s is still part of a lawsuit brought by many of the rejected Chrysler dealers who hired a law firm to try and stop the automaker from taking away their franchises. While that didn’t work, the law firm continues to represent the dealerships, Doug Alley said.

“Obviously what we had hoped they would be able to do didn’t work,” he said. “But we’re pursuing what claims we think we have with them.”

Meanwhile, city and state officials including Mayor Dennis Phillips, the Kingsport Area Chamber of Commerce, U.S. Rep. Phil Roe and U.S. Sen. Bob Corker have been supportive of the dealership, he said.

“And we’ve had countless customers and friends that have called and written and e-mailed,” Doug Alley said. “It’s been very gratifying to see the kind of support we’ve gotten from the community. Obviously it’s difficult on our family. It’s especially difficult on my dad. But the amount of support has just been really tremendous, and we really appreciate it.”

Don Hill Jeep in Kingsport was also among the Chrysler dealers to lose its franchise. Dealership spokesman Rick Hill was unavailable for comment on Friday.

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