Signal Hill auto dealers gear up for summer sales with new Fiat, Cadillac dealerships

Photos by Sean Belk/Signal<br><strong> Tribune Glenn E. Thomas Dodge Chrysler Jeep is hoping to see more interest in sales of its new and used Fiat models, seen here parked at its new dealership, which is the latest addition to the Signal Hill Auto Center.</strong>
Sean Belk
Staff Writer

Two new car dealerships were added to the Signal Hill Auto Center in the last year, and local auto dealers are pumped for this year’s summer sales season, hoping to continue an upward trend brought on by improving market conditions.
“Typically, this is a pretty good time of year for us,” said Bob Davis, president of Glenn E. Thomas Dodge Chrysler Jeep, which officially rolled out its new Fiat dealership at 2102 E. Spring St. in late March.
Offering new and used models of the compact cars produced by the Italian auto-maker, Glenn E. Thomas Dodge Chrysler Jeep acquired the Fiat franchise several months ago and opened a temporary 2,200-square-foot showroom on the lot early last month. Signs along Spring Street can be seen pointing to the new dealership.
After becoming the majority shareholder of Chrysler Group LLC in 2011, Fiat is now hoping to break into California’s electric-vehicle market. Hugo Parades, head of Internet sales and leasing for the Fiat dealer, said he suspects interest from customers will grow as people become more aware of the Fiat brand through advertising and learn of the new dealer in town. He said Fiat plans to roll out its new 2013 500e electric models by June.
Fiat, considered the fourth-largest car manufacturer in Europe, is a relatively new “nameplate” in America since the automaker had disappeared from the United States for 20 years, said Davis, who serves as president of the Signal Hill Auto Center Association. Fiat has returned to the U.S. market in California, looking to capitalize on the Golden State’s mandated shift to energy-efficient, zero-emissions vehicles.
Davis said the new franchise dealership won’t compete with other brands on the lot and he hopes the new style of car will thrive, especially since sales of Chrysler Jeep models have declined throughout the years.
“We don’t have anything that competes with [Fiat], so it’s a kind of a niche vehicle for us,” he said. “They’ve ramped up the advertising, which is good to bring some awareness to the brand and get people to at least put Fiat on their shopping list. People love the car… and the styling and the colors. It’s a good California car.”
Davis hopes to eventually relocate the Fiat dealership to a vacant three-acre lot located on the 1400 block of E. Spring Street at Walnut Avenue, adjacent to the Honda dealership. The empty lot was left behind from the dissolved redevelopment agency and is zoned for a car dealership. He said Glenn E. Thomas Dodge is working with Signal Hill city officials to acquire the land that is still moving through the redevelopment-dissolution process.
<strong> The owners of Boulevard Buick GMC Cadillac opened their Cadillac dealership in 2012 and have seen a steady rise in car sales, according to Ron Charron, co-owner and president of the dealership. </strong>
Elise McCaleb, Signal Hill economic development manager, said plans for the three-acre lot in addition to a vacant six-acre property previously slated for a CarMax facility, are both on hold until the Signal Hill redevelopment successor agency receives approval from the State Department of Finance for a “finding of completion” and then a long-range property-management plan.
Meanwhile, market reports show that the U.S. car-sales industry, as a whole, continues to rebound from the economic downturn, as many dealers are seeing an increase in sales due to the “pent-up demand” caused by the recession.
Signal Hill Finance Director Terry Marsh said new motor vehicle sales in the entire city of Signal Hill were up 23.7 percent over the previous year during the third quarter of 2012, which lasts from July to September. She added that seven of the City’s top 25 sales-tax revenue producers were car dealerships last year. Marsh said more current sales-tax revenue statistics will be available next month.
Glenn E. Thomas Dodge Chrysler Jeep, a family-owned dealership that’s been in existence in the local area for more than a century, saw a 50-percent increase in sales last year over 2011, while so far this year the dealer is up by 10 to 12 percent over 2012, Davis said.
“It’s definitely a lot better than it’s been in the past,” Davis said. “I think it’s a combination of the fact that there’s been a lot of pent-up demand, people are driving older cars and they got to get a new one, and more people are working now. The housing industry seems to be coming back, and, generally as they grow we grow. So I think all those interest rates are really low. So car-loan financing is low. So there’s a lot of good things.”
Nearby, the owners of Boulevard Buick GMC Cadillac have also seen a steady increase in sales after opening their new Cadillac dealership in August 2012. The dealership at 2850 Cherry Ave. in the auto center was relocated from its former location at Redondo Avenue and Willow Street, a site that is now being leased for vehicle storage by Hooman Toyota.
Ron Charron, co-owner and president of Boulevard Buick GMC Cadillac, said overall auto sales for the Boulevard dealership, which now owns three car-dealership franchises after being in existence for nearly 50 years, have increased so far this year by a little more than 20 percent over 2012.
<strong>Hugo Parades, head of Internet sales and leasing for the new Fiat dealer in Signal Hill, is seen at the dealership’s new 2,200-square-foot showroom.  </strong>
“Business has been good,” he said. “It’s nice to [have our Cadillac dealership] next to our Buick and GMC stores. We’re also next to high-line competition, which are BMW and Mercedes. So it’s been very good to us.”
After going through a couple of “rough years,” business as a whole continues to improve for dealerships at the Signal Hill Auto Center, located along Cherry Avenue from Willow to Spring streets, as the economy continues to improve, Charron said.
A big surprise for Boulevard Buick GMC Cadillac, however, has been a recent shift of younger-generation customers age 20 to 30, expressing a loyalty to the American-made car brand, he said.
Carron said the quality of automobiles has improved over the decades as well. “GM is building a much better car than they were 15 years ago, so that’s also helping us,” he said.
Cadillac’s smaller ATS models now comes in a two-door coup model and was made to reach a new, younger demographic. Cadillac has also sold its large Sedans, and XTS models, designed to compete with BMW’s 3 Series models.
Next year, Cadillac plans to offer its new electric car, known as the ELR, in addition to its new Escalade Luxury SUV, Charron said.
Buick has also improved its sales and leases with new models, such as the Encore and Verano, which are smaller and have better gas-mileage than older models, he said.
“We’re seeing a lot more less-than-30-year-old people buying Buicks, when 10 years ago, it was your grandfather’s car,” Charron said. “We’re happy to see the shift. The quality is great. The ranking is there with J.D. Power and Associates. It’s a true competition to the imports.”

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