The Benson and Willey families in Ames, Iowa, have enjoyed a friendly rivalry for decades. Benson Motors has sold Dodge for about 30 years, while the Willey family has sold Jeep in the area since 1981.
They are the only Chrysler LLC dealerships in Ames, a friendly, prosperous town of 50,000 in the center of Iowa corn country and the home of Iowa State University.
But soon Ames will have no Chrysler stores.
About 10 a.m. on May 14, both families received United Parcel Service envelopes notifying them that Chrysler was rejecting their dealerships in its post-bankruptcy future.
Both dealers acknowledge that their stores are small — each sells about 10 new Chrysler vehicles a month in a college town dominated by import brands. But the families are still puzzled at why Chrysler would abandon them and Ames entirely.
As Chrysler sheds dealerships in U.S. Bankruptcy Court, the automaker's desire for bigger, higher-volume dealerships is colliding head-on with the small-town culture of the Bensons and Willeys.
The company knows it will lose revenue in the short term as it cuts stores. Longer term, Chrysler faces a real challenge in getting those customers to come back.
"In those markets where Chrysler has terminated a long-standing dealer, I can guarantee you that Chrysler has squandered goodwill with those individuals they believed to be loyal to Chrysler and not the dealer," says Mark Johnson, president of MD Johnson Inc., a Seattle dealership brokerage and financial advisory firm.