When Chuck Fortinberry heard in May that Chrysler would terminate his new-car franchises in suburban Detroit, he overcame his shock and quickly created a new business plan.
"I didn't waste time," Fortinberry, told Automotive News in July. "Time is money."
After his new-car sales ended June 9, Fortinberry turned his 30,000-square-foot dealership, Clarkston Chrysler-Jeep, into a used-car operation and service center, adding a NAPA-branded parts and service business.
But Fortinberry ran out of time. On Friday, Oct. 16, he closed his reconfigured Clarkston Motors. He says he was losing at least $30,000 a month and couldn't generate enough business to cover expenses, even though he had laid off more than half of his 36 employees when Chrysler cut him.
"I've got 30,000 square feet," he says. "I've got too much overhead in this big building."
Fortinberry and some of Chrysler's 789 rejected dealers are finding that the obstacles of post-Chrysler life are insurmountable. The Russo family reached the same decision, closing Lochmoor Chrysler-Jeep in Detroit on Oct. 9. And Steve Weinberg of the former Weinberg Dodge in Grandview, Mo., a Kansas City suburb, also closed the doors for good Oct. 1.
Many are bitter, believing the powers that be -- from the federal government to Chrysler -- conspired to terminate them unjustly and gave them too little time to prepare for life after Chrysler. And the deepest recession in half a century gave them no room for error.
The dealers say that without warranty work on vehicles they had sold, they couldn't generate enough service revenue for the amount of space. And they discovered the used-car business was tough in a down economy.
It didn't help that the customers they had built up started slipping away as Chrysler notified those customers that the stores no longer were franchised dealers.
Lochmoor Automotive tried to assemble a smorgasbord of smaller businesses to make up, at least in part, for the Chrysler and Jeep franchises it lost June 9.
Gina Russo, general manager of Lochmoor, says her family dealership had hoped that Mahindra truck and Vespa scooter franchises, combined with service business and used cars, would fill some of the gaping hole caused by the termination of its Chrysler and Jeep business.
But Mahindra's entry into North America has been delayed; the small pickups probably won't be launched until early next year. And scooters, used cars and service couldn't cover the overhead of the family's 80,000-square-foot dealership.
When Chrysler delivered its termination notice to Lochmoor on May 14, the dealership had 80 employees. But it was down to 24 when the store closed.
"It wasn't enough," she says.
Russo says the family held onto hope until the end -- making the decision to close on Oct. 8, the day before the dealership closed.
"I wanted my people to be able to get out there and find a job before other dealers and suppliers started shutting down," she says. "These guys are mechanics. They needed homes."