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After hearing, Minnesota auto dealers still face uncertain future

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Minnesota auto dealers who traveled to Washington to protest closures associated with GM and Chrysler’s restructuring emerged from an hours-long Senate hearing Wednesday glad they made the trip, but still uncertain about the future.

“Absolutely, it was worth coming,” said Jim Leonard, who co-owns Fury Dodge-Chrysler in Lake Elmo and received notice in May that his franchise would not be renewed.

“But, did it play out the way I wanted? No. I had so many of my own questions… I don’t know how this meeting translates into the next stage. I don’t know where it goes next. But, we are up against days now, not weeks, months or years,” he said.

Leonard was joined at the hearing by 11 other Minnesota dealers —  unofficially the largest contingent from any state, according to Leonard.

Some of them, like Leonard, had been running profitable businesses. They came seeking details on how and why dealerships were chosen. They wondered if they could appeal or receive more time to wind down their businesses.        

When Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., who sits on the panel, took her turn to question the heads of General Motors and Chrysler, she pressed them on these issues: The appeals process, how they would buy back parts and whether former dealers would get a chance to reopen if, down the road, the manufacturers chose to open a dealership in the same location.

Pointing to an aerial image of the Walser Buick, Pontiac and GMC car dealership in Bloomington, Klobuchar said: “Profitable, one of the most profitable car dealerships in Minnesota, yet it’s one [and they’re appealing] that has been decided to be closed down. I just want you to have that image in your mind.”

In round two of questions, Klobuchar tried to pin down specifics:  Chrysler would not extend an appeals process, but would redistribute all equipment and parts; GM promised to fairly evaluate all appeals; and dealerships that had not been extended would have a chance to re-apply if another franchise was set to be opened in their location.

Still, the dealerships that had been told to wind down — the ones who came to Washington in hopes of being heard and saving their businesses — realized today that while their efforts were important, they were probably still facing the same reality.

Or, to put it bluntly, as Sen. Mike Johanns, R-Neb., said in the last series questions of the hearing:

“I’ve heard what you’ve kind of represented and promised, but I have to tell you, just to be honest with the dealers in the room. I think you’re going to walk out of this hearing today and 95 percent of what was decided before this hearing started isn’t going to change. They’re still going to lose their dealership. You may work with them a little bit more, but in the end they’re going out of business aren’t they? And don’t give me a long answer the gavel is going to come down. Just give me a yes or no.”

“Yes,” said Chrysler.

“Yes,” said GM.

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