Lithia's DeBoer to Republicans: Give Obama some credit

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LAS VEGAS -- Sid DeBoer recently stood up in front of a Rotary Club meeting in Medford, Ore., and thanked the man he believes should get a big share of the credit for the current prosperity of his Lithia Motors Inc.

His audience wasn’t fully prepared for the name of the person DeBoer wanted to thank -- a controversial figure in the auto dealer world: President Barack Obama.

“I’m thanking Obama. He was the person who made that call” to save Chrysler in 2009, said DeBoer, Lithia’s chairman. “It was a roomful of Republicans, and I said there’s someone I want to honor.”

Lithia -- which owns 24 Chrysler Group stores, more than any other dealership group -- has been on a roll as resurgent Chrysler’s sales have soared. Chrysler Group’s sales jumped 26 percent in 2011. Lithia’s stock price recently hit a 52-week high. DeBoer estimates that Lithia sells more than 1 percent of Chrysler’s production. DeBoer said Obama’s decision to save Chrysler is a major reason why Lithia will begin building a $17 million headquarters building this spring.

“Seventeen million is being spent on construction because of what this guy said,” DeBoer said.

Publicly traded Lithia swept the retailer category at the 12th annual Global Automotive Shareholder Value Awards in January. The awards, developed jointly by Automotive News and PwC, recognize the best shareholder return for automotive manufacturers, suppliers and retailers.

“This was the guy who extended the Bush tax cuts,” DeBoer said. “He personally saw to the death of the archenemy of our country [Osama bin Laden]. It took guts not to blink. And he got us out of Iraq. What are you going to say?”

Some dealers are angry that the Obama administration decided to allow General Motors and Chrysler to terminate dealer franchises in 2009, including 789 Chrysler stores.

And DeBoer, a political independent, said he hasn’t made up his mind whether he’ll support Obama in the next election.

“But he’s been a good president for us.”

You can reach Bradford Wernle at bwernle@crain.com.

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