General Motors is having trouble persuading dealers in New Jersey to set up shop in an inno-vative all-GM auto mall.
A Saturn dealer has already opted out, and other dealers are hesitating.
Bob Maguire, who holds the Saturn rights in central New Jersey, decided not to join because GM will not let him own the land, and rent would be about $40,000 a month.
He also was unhappy that his new store, Saturn of Lawrenceville, would be at the back of the mall and not have highway front-age. The mall is proposed on U.S. Route 1 in Lawrenceville, near Trenton.
On May 20, he paid $1.1 million for 10.4 acres 2 1/2 miles south of the proposed mall site. He plans to break ground for the new Saturn store within 60 days.
The auto mall is part of GM's Project 2000 strategy to relocate dealerships to high-traffic areas.
Of the five dealerships GM had designated to move into the mall, only one other dealer, James Dalton, who acquired Garnet Chevrolet under GM's minority dealer program, was willing to move. The three other stores GM wants to move are Coleman Buick-Pontiac-GMC, Coleman Oldsmobile and Colonial Cadillac. GM spokeswoman Anne Marie Sylvester denies that GM is forcing dealers to move.
The owners of those three stores own their property and do not like the idea of being uprooted and having to pay GM for new facilities. Under the plan, GM would own the land and the buildings.
Dealers who did not think the move to the mall was a good idea in the first place are even more concerned now that Maguire has bowed out.
GOOD FOR US?
'My question to GM is: If Saturn has decided it's not a good area, what makes it good for us? Saturn is a part of GM, isn't it?' said Lew Coleman, chairman of Coleman Oldsmobile in Ewingville, N.J.
Coleman said the area GM designated for the mall is congested and many of his customers have told him they will not patronize his service department if he moves.
'We want to cooperate with GM, but we have to look at this as a business opportunity,' said Coleman, who is semiretired. His sons, Gary and Bruce, handle much of the day-to-day operations. Sylvester, the GM spokeswoman, said the company is disappointed that Saturn will not be represented in the mall, but the project is still a go.
She said GM is working out land approval details with township officials, but the project is on schedule. She could not say when the mall will open. She denied that GM is forcing the other dealers to go along with the plans. 'We can't force anybody to do anything,' she said. 'We can tell them where business is going. The last thing we want is to see the project fail.'
The area where Maguire is moving is hot property. One three-mile stretch contains Dodge, Mercedes-Benz, Lincoln-Mercury, Ford, Toyota, Volvo, Porsche and Acura dealerships, Maguire said.
Among the people Maguire outbid for the land were Richard Coleman, owner of Coleman Buick-Pontiac-GMC in Trenton, and Al Haldeman, owner of Lawrence Lexus.
The same day he lost the first bid to Maguire, Haldeman paid $606,000 for the 12-acre site adjacent to the one purchased by Maguire. Haldeman plans to move his Lexus store there.
Maguire said he tried to reason with GM's real estate arm, World Wide Realty, without success.
'It's GM's way or the highway; I took the highway,' said Maguire, who has been a GM dealer for 20 years. He owns Bob Maguire Chevrolet, Saturn of Bordentown and Bob Maguire GM Automotive Parts Center in Bordentown, N.J., plus Saturn of Toms River in Toms River, N.J.
Maguire is the National Automo-bile Dealers Association director for New Jersey and vice chairman of NADA's Region 1, which stretches from Maine to Delaware and includes Pennsylvania. He also is NADA industry relations representative for Saturn.
READY FOR NEW CAR
'GM has been slow developing the mall site anyway,' said Maguire. 'I need to be up and running within a year. I want to be ready for the new Innovate.' Innovate is the code-name for the Opel Vectra-based LS, Saturn's first mid-sized car, which is scheduled to debut in the third quarter of 1999.
GM wants Buick-Pontiac-GMC dealer Richard Coleman to move to the mall, but he said he is doing well in his present location. He said he bid on the property that Maguire purchased in an effort to find property that would have been satisfactory to GM and that he could own.
'I want to cooperate with GM if the circumstances are correct,' said Richard Coleman. 'I'm not sure that the market (at the mall site) is that much bigger. The Lexus dealer is right across the street from where GM wants us to go. It's ironic that he's moving away.'