Says Brian Maas, director of government affairs for the California New Car Dealers Association in Sacramento: "When the whole bankruptcy thing happened, Chrysler Financial pulled out and GMAC was supposed to step in, and they've been slow to do that. A lot of these guys are scrambling for financing, and banks aren't willing to do that.
"Unless you're dualed or have another line willing to floor your Chrysler vehicles, you're going to be scrambling. If you don't have access to capital, you can't buy the inventory. And the customer goes in and says you just don't have the choice of vehicles that competing dealers at another line might have."
Chrysler Group had a 5.4 percent market share in California for 2009, according to the dealers association. That compares with 8.9 percent for 2009 nationally. In 2005, Chrysler held a 7.5 percent share of the California market.
Chrysler Group spokeswoman Kathy Graham acknowledges that California is a tough market for the automaker.
"The market share speaks for itself," Graham says. "It's not a market we've given up on. As the company moves forward, we're going to try to continue to increase market share and sales."
Chrysler Group CEO Sergio Marchionne has praised GMAC for working quickly to get many former Chrysler Financial dealerships floorplanned.
As Chrysler entered a government-sponsored bankruptcy last spring, the federal government appointed GMAC Financial Services as Chrysler's finance company. That forced Chrysler dealerships to negotiate new terms with GMAC.
Some dealers who owed large amounts to Chrysler Financial have had trouble getting GMAC to approve them for floorplan lines, so they have had to seek other lenders at a time when credit is tight.
The U.S. Department of Treasury holds a 56 percent stake in GMAC, up from 35.4 percent before a recent infusion of aid.
GMAC declined to speak about the situations of individual dealers.
"We approved the vast majority of Chrysler dealers who applied for wholesale credit lines and are continuing to work with the few remaining dealers who have conditional credit approval," GMAC President Bill Muir said this month.
Scott Reneau, dealer principal of Reneau Chrysler-Dodge in Paso Robles, Calif., can't buy new cars, either. Last week he had four new cars on his lot, all 2009 models. He says talks continue with banks, and he has some hope of success.
Reneau says he is able to order some cars from another dealer and pay cash for them. He says GMAC told him he is undercapitalized. Reneau says he's willing to take a smaller floorplan line but has found GMAC and other banks unreceptive.
"They think of it as more of a cost. They don't want to do [a credit line of] $1 million or $2 million," says Reneau, who used to sell 35 to 45 cars a month.
Reneau is frustrated: "You ask for help, and you're treated like a leper out here. You call banks, and they don't return phone calls."