Susan Schein loses GM, Chrysler franchises

Published 1:29 pm Monday, May 18, 2009

Pelham auto dealer Susan Schein announced Monday Chrysler LLC and General Motors Corp. intend to terminate her dealership agreements.

“We’re just trying to convince anyone and everyone that they are making the wrong decision,” Schein said. “It just doesn’t make any sense to shut down a viable business. When they pull the rug out from under me, I’m still going to have to pay a mortgage. Are they going to pick that up for me?”

Chrysler announced May 14 it would close 789 dealerships by June 9, according to a plan filed in U.S. Bankruptcy Court. The next day, GM announced it would close 1,100 dealerships by the end of 2010. Both carmakers say they are closing dealerships because they have too many outlets competing with each other, which drives down prices.

Schein disagrees.

She said if anything, the closing would cause the manufacturers to lose customers. She said she doubts someone in Montevallo would drive all the way to Bessemer or I–459 to purchase a car, when other dealerships are closer.

Schein purchased the dealerships from her father, Bill Strickland, in 1992. Her family has owned dealerships in Shelby County since 1974, when Strickland opened a Chevrolet dealership in Columbiana. The business moved to Pelham in 1982.

Pelham Mayor Don Murphy contacted Schein Monday to extend the city’s support. Murphy also contacted U.S. Reps. Spencer Bachus, R-Vestavia Hills, and Artur Davis, D-Birmingham, and U.S. Sens. Richard Shelby and Jeff Sessions to determine whether the carmakers’ decision can be reversed.

Murphy said local dealerships should not be punished for corporate managers’ mistakes.

“GM doesn’t own that place down there. Mrs. Schein does. She and her father worked hard to have that place,” Murphy said. “This is something we don’t need to let go. We need to challenge this.”

Murphy said Schein’s announcement not only means the loss of a reputable business and jobs, but also the loss of several thousand of dollars of city revenue.

With both companies pulling out, 70 employees could eventually lose jobs.

“Obviously it was a devastating blow for many reasons,” Schein said. “One of the biggest reasons was my employees, many of which have been with me 16-20 years. You want to keep people motivated, but their all thinking, ‘Man, I’ve got to find another job.’”

By filing bankruptcy, Chrysler is not required to purchase back its vehicles, Schein said. She expects to begin liquidating those vehicles in the next three weeks if nothing changes. The dealership could potentially have until 2010 to close out its GM brand.

Murphy doubts the carmakers considered how its decision affects a community.

“We’re the fastest growing county in the state of Alabama, and now we have to go to Jefferson County to buy parts and buy cars just because some company in Detroit mismanaged the funds. That’s not right, and nobody can convince me that’s right,” Murphy said.

Murphy added, “I told Susan I would do anything I could to help her. I hope she comes in with another line of automobiles and trucks there, and keep the people working.”

Chrysler has released the names of dealerships they intend to close, but GM is leaving the announcement up to respective owners.

Other Alabama Chrysler dealers facing closure include Don Drennen Chrysler Jeep Inc. in Hoover, Terry Sligh Automotive Inc. in Oneonta, Anderson Motor Co. Inc. in Lanett, Bondy’s Jeep in Dothan, Classic Automotive Inc. in Cullman, Glynn Smith Jeep in Opelika, Greenville Motor Co. in Greenville, Superior Jeep Chrysler Plymouth in Anniston, Pierson Jeep in Gadsden, Cloverleaf Chrysler Dodge Jeep in Huntsville, Victor Motor Co. in Prattville and Greater Birmingham Dodge Chrysler.

Samantha Hurst contributed to this report.