East Valley auto dealers who sell General Motors and Chrysler vehicles welcomed the news of federal help for the car makers Friday, saying the loans should ease consumers' fears that the companies may not have a future.
"The reality is that any help they get from the government, it will ease people's minds," said Larry Storjohann, corporate general manager of Earnhardt Auto Centers, which operates a Dodge dealership in Gilbert. "That should increase our business."
Bobbi Sparrow, president of the Arizona Automobile Dealers Association, agreed, saying the aid will send a "good message to consumers that they can consider any manufacturer they want."
Dan Jonuska, partner in Saturn of Scottsdale LLC, also was positive, saying "we've been waiting a long time for this."
Jonuska is optimistic the Saturn vehicle line will survive, either with GM or with another manufacturer that purchases the brand. "With Saturn, (GM officials) have said they would get together with the retailers and discuss the options going forward," he said. "We'll see what the plan might be ... but I'm really optimistic that we have a strong future, either with GM or breaking away from GM."
He added that most of the Saturn dealers nationwide are in modern facilities in good locations "that are perfect for what they need to do."
The dealers emphasized the importance of salary and benefits concessions by the United Auto Workers union to making the Big 3 competitive with foreign automakers. "They will have to get their legacy costs down to be sustainable," Sparrow said.
Storjohann concurred, saying "the first thing they will have to do is to renegotiate with the union. That's going to happen. That's what is going to make up the decision to move forward."
Storjohann said the number of brands and models available to consumers may shrink as a result of the companies' restructuring. But he believes Chrysler will remain in business as an independent entity. "It's a big business," he said.
Henry Brown, owner of GM and Chrysler dealerships in Gilbert and Casa Grande, said dealers may have to make sacrifices too to help the automakers return to profitability.
"We're anxious to see what will be required of us," he said. "Some of the incentives we have had along the way will probably go away. I'm guessing they will continue to cut our margins." Still, he said, "we're willing to do our part."