Town and Country Chrysler: Owner says outlook is looking up
Local dealership reacts to car manufacturer bankruptcy news

CONYERS - The announcement of U.S. car maker Chrysler filing for bankruptcy was encouraging news for the local Chrysler Dodge Jeep dealership.

Chrysler, the third-largest American automaker, filed for bankruptcy Thursday after months of negotiations with regulators, unions and creditors fell apart when a group of debt holders declined the federal government's terms for an out-of-court restructuring.

Chrysler officials and regulators overseeing government recovery loans to the company have said the bankruptcy should be a quick and "surgical" one. Court motions made Friday could set in motion the series of events that will allow Chrysler to consummate a merger deal with the Italian automaker, Fiat, in two months, according to The Associated Press.

Steve Harris, owner of Town and Country Chrysler in Conyers, said Friday the bankruptcy filing was actually the first good news he's heard about the car maker in months.

"If nothing else, the uncertainty has been removed," he said. "There's a signed agreement with Fiat that will bring small cars the government and the market want along with the engineering reputation of Fiat, the most successful car company in Europe."

Harris and other auto dealerships have had a rough time over the past year as sales plummeted due to the downturn of the economy. Harris has had to cut staff and acknowledged his service department had carried the business in recent months.

Chrysler lost $8 billion last year and its sales through March were down 46 percent compared with the year-earlier period, leading some auto industry analysts to question whether Chrysler can survive even in bankruptcy, according to the AP.

Now, Harris said, prospects are good. Current customers will not notice any change at the dealership, located on Iris Drive between the Sigman Road and West Avenue exits along Interstate 20. Next week, the car maker will start a new advertising campaign to herald "building a new Chrysler," Harris said.

In short, the prospect of becoming a Chrysler Dodge Jeep Fiat dealership by summer is a good opportunity for him and his customers, Harris said.

He said that some Chrysler brands that overlap each other or are redundant may disappear, but they will be replaced with vehicles with Fiat's fuel-efficient technology, Harris said.

"When all of this is over, and all is said and done, we'll all probably be better for it," he said. "Chrysler will be a smaller company, but a better run company."

Harris said the lack of credit for car buyers has been the biggest factor in sales at Town and Country. He added that business has picked up and that could be a sign that people are now able to access credit that they couldn't last year.

Jay Jones can be reached at jay.jones@rockdalecitizen.com. The Associated Press contributed to this report.