NEWSWATCH

Local Auto Dealerships Report Modest Growth
In Spite Of Government Shutdown Hiccup

By Samantha Mehlinger - Staff Writer

November 19, 2013 – Local auto dealerships, including Boulevard Cadillac/Buick/GMC, Cal Worthington Ford and Glenn E. Thomas Dodge/Chrysler/Jeep/Fiat, are reporting that business has grown since last year.

These dealerships have long histories in the Long Beach and Signal Hill automotive industry. Originally founded as the Long Beach Auto Company in 1909, the Glenn E. Thomas dealerships have been based in the area for more than 100 years. Current owner Jim Willingham founded the Boulevard dealerships in 1950, while Worthington Ford was founded in 1974.

“Business is good this year. It’s definitely an incremental improvement over last year,” Nick Worthington, president at Worthington Ford in Long Beach, told the Business Journal. Worthington is the grandson of the dealership’s founder, the late Cal Worthington, who was well known for appearing in his dealership’s television commercials with exotic animals, all named Spot. Year-over-year, new vehicle sales are up 30 percent, while pre-owned sales are steady, Worthington said.

Bouelvard Cadillac Long Beach

Partners of Boulevard Cadillac and Buick/GMC dealerships
Ron Charron (left) and Brad Willingham (right), join General Sales Manager Chad Charron outside
the Boulevard Cadillac dealership at 2850 Cherry Ave. in the Signal Hill Auto Center.
One of their newest vehicles, the 2014 Cadillac CTS, shown here, was rated
Motor Trend’s 2014 Car of the Year. (Photograph by the Business Journal’s Thomas McConville)

The family of Boulevard dealerships in Signal Hill is also doing well, according to Boulevard partner Brad Willingham. “I would say 2012 was a very good year for us,” he recalled, noting that the year-over-year increase in revenues from 2011 was about 30 to 40 percent. In 2013, sales remained about the same across the Boulevard dealerships. Because November and December are “the strongest months for Cadillac,” he anticipates a five to 10 percent increase in sales by the end of the year for that vehicle brand.

At the Glenn E. Thomas dealerships in Signal Hill, volumes are up, while revenues are steady, according to President Bob Davis. “It’s been a good year. I would say the volume is up for Chrysler, Jeep and Dodge in general,” he said. The dealership also recently began selling Fiat vehicles, which Davis says are faring about as well as they were when the dealership began selling them in the spring.

All three auto dealers cited fuel efficiency as a growing consumer demand. “Everybody is after fuel economy. It continues to become more and more important,” Willingham said. “For Ford, there is more interest now in the plug-in hybrid vehicles,” Worthington recounted, citing the Ford C-MAX and Ford Fusion models as examples.

While Davis sees many of his Fiat customers interested in Fiat’s electric vehicle, the Fiat 500e, he said that the Jeep, Chrysler and Dodge dealerships continue to see the most demand for sports utility vehicles (SUVs) and trucks. “In the truck market, we’re up probably 23 percent [over last year],” he added.

Worthington said that, while a growing trend is in hybrid vehicles, the Ford F-150 truck “is always a staple of the automotive industry” and continues to experience high demand, as does the Ford Mustang Shelby, which can reach speeds of 200 miles per hour (on a closed track, of course). Willingham, too, said that SUVs like the GMC Yukon continue to be big sellers at Boulevard dealerships.

While business is doing well overall, Worthington and Willingham pointed out that the recent government shutdown seemed to impact their customers. “Consumer confidence is kind of a fickle thing,” Worthington said. “People do pay attention to what is going on in the news and when we have these political issues and crises and stalemates it really does affect business immediately. You see it right away.”

Willingham said that he noticed consumer confidence lagging in the luxury market, which includes the Boulevard Cadillac dealership, during the government shutdown. “People who are buying luxury car brands keep an eye on the stock market, the government and political issues,” he explained.

In terms of growing business, Davis cited California’s regulatory environment, high taxes and health care costs as challenges. He also pointed out that, with premium land costs in California, it is sometimes difficult to physically expand a dealership to accommodate new inventory.

All dealerships are planning sales events for the holidays, with a Black Friday sale at Worthington Ford, a December sale at Boulevard Cadillac called “Season’s Best” and various incentives available at Glenn E. Thomas. Davis noted that such sales help to “finish the year strong and clear.”