GM Dealers Left to Wait Out News

Chrysler said it wants to shrink its 3,181-dealership network by roughly a quarter.
By Peter Whoriskey
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, May 15, 2009

WINCHESTER, Va. -- He is an optimist. He sponsors little league teams, the First Night celebration, the Apple Blossom Festival, and has led charity drives. He believes this little town, where he and his father established a Chevrolet dealership years ago, is darn near paradise. He is, his wife says, "a Pollyanna."

That is, until recently.

Like thousands of General Motors dealers around the country facing the possibility that they soon will be cut loose from the manufacturer, Jim Stutzman, of Jim Stutzman Chevrolet Cadillac Buick, has taken at times to doubt, and occasionally just cold fear.

"Yeah, I'm scared," he acknowledges reluctantly.

The ailing GM and Chrysler say they have far too many dealers. Chrysler announced on Thursday that it is cutting 789 of its 3,181 dealers, but Friday may be far worse: GM is scheduled to begin notifying more than 1,000 dealers that they are being dropped.

As sensible as the cuts might seem, most of the dealers are small businesses, and many, like Stutzman's, have deep roots in the community. They typically employ about 50 people, and some are substantial donors to local causes. Their potential loss is sending ripples of concern through many towns.

"Jim is Mr. Community Service around here," said Joe Shtulman, president of the local United Way, for which Stutzman has been the campaign chairman.

"He has been a very good friend to youth sports," said Karen Vacchio of Frederick County Parks and Recreation Department, where Stutzman regularly sponsors multiple teams in every league.

"He has done the lion's share of giving back to this community," said Todd Thompson, the owner of a local printing business. "It would be a sad day for this entire area if he were to lose his dealership."

The National Automobile Dealers Association has argued that the automakers should not simply cut stores. Instead, they argue that the companies should allow market forces to cull their ranks.

Instead, the automakers are reviewing each of the dealerships, examining their market, sales and financial wherewithal, and deciding which should stay or go.

This has left people like Stutzman prone to uncharacteristic second-guessing.

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