By Nick Diamantides
In a move that strongly indicates confidence in a rebounding economy, the owners of the Boulevard Buick dealership in Signal Hill recently purchased the Coast Cadillac dealership in Long Beach. “Auto sales are increasing, and we just think this was a good move for us,” said Ron Charron, who is now part owner of both dealerships.
“In 1961, our senior partner, Jim Willingham, started Boulevard Buick on Long Beach Boulevard,” Charron said. “In the early ‘90s they came to Signal Hill along with the other dealers on Long Beach Boulevard.” Charron explained that in the early 1990s, the construction of the Blue Line light rail was making it difficult for customers to visit auto dealerships on Long Beach Boulevard. “A lot of dealers left that area at that time and moved to Signal Hill,” Charron said, explaining that he became a part of Boulevard Buick after the company moved to Signal Hill.
Three partners have owned Boulevard Buick for several years: Jim Willingham, his son Brad Willingham and Charron. “Coast Cadillac, which we have renamed Boulevard Cadillac, is now owned by the same three partners, but it is an entirely separate company,” Charron said. “This was not a merger, it was an acquisition.”
Local car dealer Mike Salta founded Coast Cadillac in 1976. “He sold it in 2000 to a public company called Sonic,” Charron noted. “We bought it from Sonic in June.” (Salta had started a Pontiac dealership on Long Beach Boulevard in 1955 and moved it to Signal Hill in the early ‘90s. Salta, now in his mid-80s, retired from the car dealership business years ago but still holds interests in real estate that is occupied by dealerships.)
Charron acknowledged that 2008 and 2009 were very tough years for auto dealerships. “Boulevard Buick survived those two years because of our longevity in the area,” he said. “Next February we will be celebrating our 50-year anniversary.” He said long-time customers were very supportive, and the fact that General Motors improved the quality of their products was also a boost during a time when car sales were declining throughout the United States.
“The quality of the General Motors product has increased tremendously,” Charron said. “People think that domestic vehicles are not as good as those made by foreign car manufacturers, but that is not true.”
He stressed that in 2010 Buick sales alone have increased by 80 percent over last year’s sales, which is an indicator of the public’s confidence in the brand. “Buick is the fastest growing franchise in America today,” Charron said. “The Buick Enclave, the Lacrosse and the new Regal are of tremendous quality and the public recognizes that,” he said. “Just to show you how much GM is believing in its product, we now have a 100,000-mile or five-year warranty on the powertrains, which include the engine and transmission.”
The Boulevard Buick dealership used to offer Buick, Pontiac and GMC products, but General Motors stopped manufacturing Pontiacs recently. “Now we just sell Buick and GMC products,” Charron said. He noted that Cadillac also has a 100,000-mile or five-year warranty on its powertrains. “We are happy to be back in Long Beach because that is where we started,” he said. “But we love the City of Signal Hill too.”
Boulevard Buick has 88 employees. “That includes the staffing of our body shop, which we just relocated back to Signal Hill,” Charron said. “Our body shop now occupies four acres, which used to be the site of the Chrysler dealership in Signal Hill.”
He noted that the body shop is one of the largest in the area and offers body work for all makes and models of cars. “Glen E. Thomas refers all its customers that need body work to us, as did the Schaier’s Nissan dealership,” he said.
The Cadillac dealership employs 60 people. Charron noted that both the Buick and Cadillac dealerships employ mechanics that are very knowledgeable in their respective product lines. “We are proud to say that our technicians are the best trained GM technicians in the state of California,” he said. “We invest in our employees and they in turn invest back in our clients. When you bring your car in for service, we usually fix it right the first time.”
He noted that the American Automobile Association recently awarded Boulevard Buick two trophies for its high scores on AAA’s Customer Satisfaction Index. “We are one of their top shops when it comes to quality,” he said.
Charron said he hopes people will go there to test-drive the Buick and GMC vehicles offered at Boulevard Buick. “If you have not tried out our product in some years, you will be very pleased and surprised by the vast improvements that have been made,” he said. “We also invite people to come to our Cadillac store. It really looks like a Ritz-Carlton, but it’s a car dealership instead of a hotel. It’s a beautiful showroom.” He said Boulevard Cadillac will have its grand opening on Aug. 19.
Boulevard Cadillac is located at 3399 E. Willow St. in Long Beach. Boulevard Buick is located at 2850 Cherry Ave. in Signal Hill.