Bad car-ma! Dealerships in trouble

The Brooklyn Paper
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It’s not just the “Big Three” that are in trouble — when the rubber hits the road, Brooklyn auto dealerships are also ailing.

As the White House moves to bail out GM and Chrysler, sales are plummeting by as much as 50 percent at lots around the borough.

“It’s tough out there,” said Chris Erato, vice president of Giuffre Auto Group, whose Mitsubishi, Kia, Mazda and Hyundai dealerships in Bay Ridge and Bensonhurst have lost one-quarter of their business since September.

“We used to have customers coming in, and [the worst that would happen is that] we couldn’t get them approved — now they’re not coming in at all,” he said.

The lack of customers has turned a Bay Ridge Volvo showroom on Fourth Avenue into a veritable ghost town, prompting salesmen to tell a Brooklyn Paper reporter that he would probably be the day’s only visitor.

It was 11:30 am.

Sales plummeted by one half since the summer according to dealer Steven Hoffman, who said that the plunge this fall has been the worst he’s witnessed in 17 years at the dealership.

“If it continues like this, dealerships will close,” he said. “Dealers can’t continue to lose money month and month and stay in business.”

Facing a faltering economy and a showroom loaded with domestic makes, Bruno Buick Pontiac GMC in Gowanus — where sales are about 10 percent below their marks — is trying to attract customers with rebates and discounts.

“Dollars talk,” said Sales Manager Paul Rademacher. “The people who come are looking for a bargain — and they find it.”

But some customers are choosing to steer clear of the Big Three — and that’s the problem.

“If somebody really believes that GM won’t be around next year, then there is no price or finance package that is going to lure them in,” he added.

The much-ballyhooed bailout could bring some additional customers attracted by bigger rebates and more lenient financing packages that dealerships might be allowed to offer, but it’s unlikely to immediately restore consumer confidence — the greatest roadblock facing car dealerships.

“People are afraid,” said Erato, who noted that most current customers are making “need-based” purchases, not “want-based” buys. “It’s the second largest purchase you make in your life. Why would you want to do that when you might not have a job next week?”

Updated 5:10 pm, July 9, 2018
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