Shifting gears

When General Motors of Canada swung the axe on Wednesday, management and staff at auto dealerships across Central Alberta were among the thousands of people awaiting word of their fate.

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When General Motors of Canada swung the axe on Wednesday, management and staff at auto dealerships across Central Alberta were among the thousands of people awaiting word of their fate.

For most, the news was good. Officials with Red Deer’s Kipp Scott Pontiac Buick and Pike Wheaton Chevrolet Oldsmobile, Weidner Motors in Lacombe, Stettler Motors, Hildebrand Motors in Olds and Buist Motor Products in Rimbey all confirmed that their dealerships were not among the casualties.

The status of other Central Alberta dealerships was less clear, with the owners of Edwards Garage of Rocky Mountain House, Palliser Chevrolet Oldsmobile of Innisfail, Ponoka Chevrolet, Sundre Motors and Three Hills Motor Products either not responding to phone calls from the Advocate or indicating they did not wish to comment. One, who did not want to be identified, explained that he was reluctant to help identify the affected dealerships before they released that information themselves.

“For a lot of families and a lot of dealership personnel, this is a very difficult time.”

CBC Calgary reported on Thursday that Three Hills Motor Products was among the approximately 245 Canadian dealerships to receive notification on Wednesday that their sales and service agreements with GM would not be renewed.

Such a notice was also sent to Gary Moe Saturn in Red Deer, although manager Dean Moe said this was expected following GM’s announcement earlier this year that it will discontinue the Saturn brand by 2012 or 2013.

“Really, yesterday’s news was no news to us.”

Moe pointed out that GM is negotiating with several prospective buyers interested in obtaining the Saturn network and supplying new vehicles to it.

“We’re here and we’re not going anywhere,” he said, adding that Saturn vehicles could, in any event, be serviced and repaired at other GM dealerships.

A news release issued by GM on Wednesday said it planned to reduce its approximately 709 Canadian dealerships by 42 per cent — or nearly 300.

Company spokesman Steve Low said the majority of the cuts are being made in larger centres like Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver.

Gord Scott, owner of Kipp Scott Pontiac Buick, said there is a high concentration of GM dealers in those cities, with some owners controlling multiple franchises

He felt his dealership and Pike Wheaton to the south were relatively safe because they share a big market in a relatively prosperous area.

“Red Deer’s a very good place to be in Central Alberta.”

Gord Pike, who owns Pike Wheaton, didn’t think the closure of other dealerships would affect his business. He explained that the GM dealers in surrounding communities like Rimbey, Rocky Mountain House, Innisfail, Lacombe and Stettler were strong enough that they weren’t at risk.

“They’re all still there, so nothing is really changing for us.”

Still, there were a few anxious moments as the clocked ticked down Wednesday afternoon, said Dave Weidner, co-owner of Weidner Motors.

“Naturally, you’re always concerned when there’s somebody else reviewing your business life and what’s going on.”

Paul Hildebrand, general manager at Hildebrand Motors, agreed.

“We were kind of on the edge of our seats, with everyone waiting to hear.”

Weidner said it’s still tough to see other dealers receive bad new about their futures.

“Naturally, you have friends in the business.”

Scott and Pike thought GM handled the task of consolidating its dealer network as well as could be expected.

“I think they’re going to help (those) dealers out the best they can,” said Pike.

Scott said GM was already planning to downsize its dealer network when it’s hand was forced by the federal and Ontario governments.

“I think they just brought the plan forward to the end of May.”

hrichards@bprda.wpengine.com

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