DETROIT -- Carl Galeana has opened many dealerships over the years, and even had two of the early Saturn stores.
But until today, he never had a CEO attend one of his openings -- until Monday.
Sergio Marchionne, CEO of Fiat S.p.A. and Chrysler Group LLC, attended the opening of Fiat of Lakeside, the first standalone Fiat dealership in the region.
"He understands how important this is to everyone," said Galeana. "It sends a strong message to have him here."
As a scrum of international automotive journalists crowded around Marchionne, Galeana said having the executive on hand brought global exposure to himself and the dealership.
"If he wasn't here, I think we'd have a whole different kind of event," Galeana said.
Marchionne's appearance at the new Macomb Township, Mich., dealership -- the day before Chrysler Group was to announce it is paying back its U.S. government loans -- drew even more publicity for the dealership.
Whether it converts into sales or not remains to be seen, Galeana said.
He added: "That part is up to us."
The dealership, located about a dozen miles east of Chrysler's U.S. headquarters in Auburn Hills, Mich., is a turnaround story for Galeana. The store was Saturn of Lakeside before General Motors discontinued the brand. With a $750,000 investment, the building on Hall Road near Romeo Plank Road is now Fiat of Lakeside.
The new business was also able to rehire 15 of the 40 people who once worked at Saturn of Lakeside.
"It means a lot that we can hire some of those folks back," he said.
Although the store is the first standalone Fiat dealership in metro Detroit, it's not the first to sell Fiat cars.
A showroom next to Golling Chrysler Jeep Dodge Inc. in Bloomfield Hills has been selling Fiats since February, said dealership President Bill Golling. Golling sold 15 cars in the first month, 18 in the second and 20 last month.
Golling will open a standalone Fiat dealership in August in Birmingham along Woodward Avenue.
Also expected to open a Fiat dealership in metro Detroit is the Troy-based Suburban Group.
There are 59 Fiat dealerships in the United States, with roughly 10 percent to 15 percent of them standalone stores, said Laura Soave, head of the Fiat brand in NorthAmerica. The rest are temporary showrooms such as Golling's.
Soave called Galeana's store "a model dealership for us right now. They spared no expense."