NASHVILLE -- A plan by Mercedes-Benz USA to award a dealer franchise in Alabama to Crimson Tide football coach Nick Saban and a business partner can move forward now that litigation with a longtime Mercedes dealer there has been settled.
With three national titles for the Tide, Saban occupies a social position in Alabama that is approximately equal to Julius Caesar’s in imperial Rome.
So imagine the surprise at Crown Automobile, which has been the Mercedes-Benz dealer in Birmingham for 40 years, when it learned last year that Mercedes had quietly awarded the champion football coach and his business partner a letter of intent to open a new Benz dealership in ... Birmingham.
Crown filed suit late last year against Mercedes-Benz USA to stop the deal. Crown charged that putting any second Mercedes dealer into the Birmingham market would violate Crown’s franchise agreement. The suit also complained -- without ever mentioning Saban -- that the development had tackled Crown’s plan to sell its store. News of the proposed new competitor had cause an unnamed purchaser to back out, the suit alleged.
Earlier this year, Crown subpoenaed Coach Saban to testify this fall and bring all his notes and emails on the proposed dealership. But on Friday, just days before the start of Alabama’s football season, Crown and the factory reached a confidential out-of-court settlement.
Saban’s attorney issued a public statement late Friday saying that the proposed new Alabama dealership with Saban and his partner, Baton Rouge Mercedes dealer Joe Agresti, will now go forward.
Donna Boland, a spokeswoman for Mercedes-Benz USA, said in an email that Agresti originally approached the automaker with the proposal to open the dealership with Saban.
"Our feeling, then and now, is that the goodwill the coach brings with him, Joe Agresti’s business acumen and the enthusiasm they both have for this dealership, is going to make for a very successful enterprise," Boland wrote in the email late Friday.
Without the settlement, the coach would have reported to court on Nov. 3 -- just days before his big game against Southeast Conference rival LSU.