Brewer Jeep hopes to remain open as Brewer Mitsubishi

CNJ staff photo: Liliana Castillo Clovis’ Brewer Jeep is one of four New Mexico Chrysler dealers on the closure list released by Chrysler LLC on Thursday.

By Sharna Johnson: CNJ staff writer

Don Brewer isn’t planning to just roll over and stop selling Jeeps.

Clovis’ Brewer Jeep is one of 789 Chrysler dealerships nationwide targeted for closure by the soon-to-be bankrupt corporation.

Regardless, Brewer said his dealership will remain open as Brewer Mitsubishi.

And he is looking into some other foreign products to bring online. Meanwhile, there are attorneys working through an appeal process in the hopes of saving his and other New Mexico Chrysler-based dealerships targeted by Thursday’s closure sweep.

Dealers don’t expect to know for a month or so —when Chrysler’s bankruptcy is expected to be finalized — if they will survive.

Brewer said attorneys are arguing that the strategy of closing so many dealerships suddenly is not a good one.

Chrysler should at the least give dealers a couple of years to transition into closure, “instead of just wholesale slaughtering them,” he said.

The news came Thursday morning as a list was made public by Chrysler LLC, which wants to eliminate roughly a quarter of its 3,200 U.S. dealerships by early next month.

Four New Mexico dealers are on the closure list — in Clovis, Raton, Albuquerque and Las Cruces.

Chrysler said in a bankruptcy court filing Thursday that the network is antiquated and has too many stores competing with each other.

The company, in a motion filed with the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in New York, said it wants to eliminate 789 dealerships by June 9. Many of the dealers’ sales are too low, the automaker said. Just over 50 percent of dealers account for about 90 percent of the company’s U.S. sales, the motion said.

Brewer said the news wasn’t a complete surprise.

“We’ve sold a ton of Jeeps. Our disadvantage is that we’re a small Jeep dealership without Chrysler or Dodge (product lines),” he said.

“We knew we were at risk when (Chrysler) went bankrupt.”

Formerly Bailey-Strebeck, the Jeep dealership has been in Clovis about 21 years.

There are two other Chrysler dealers in the area — Bender in Clovis, and Big Valley in Portales.

In the event the closure goes through and the dealership loses the Jeep product lines, Brewer said Bender Chrysler Dodge and Big Valley Chrysler in Portales will be able to take care of service and warranty issues for area customers.

Either way, Brewer said he expects to keep all of his employees.

Bryce Bender owns the Bender Auto Group, which deals in Chevrolet, Cadillac, Chrysler, Dodge, Honda and Nissan.

Bender said he was never worried about what might come of the Chrysler problems or possible dealership closures.

“I will be real honest with you I wasn’t real nervous about it. I had a backup plan,” he said. “I didn’t want to go to my grave over this thing, I was definitely being real optimistic about it.”

Bender said the economy has caused him more concern than Chrysler’s woes.

General Manager Terry Wilcox with Big Valley in Portales said news that his dealership was spared was good, making the situation bittersweet because of the effect it would have on others in the industry.

“They’re trying to convince the dealers that it’s going to be better for the dealers (that are left) because with fewer dealerships you’re going to get more sales. That remains to be seen,” he said.

“You just got to really feel for the ones that have their life savings invested and they just get shut down. … They’re not even offering assistance to the ones they’re closing and they’re not even hardly saying they’re sorry. It’s a pretty bad deal.”

A hearing is scheduled for June 3 in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in New York to determine whether to approve Chrysler’s motion.

Judges often rely on companies in bankruptcy to help determine what is in their best business interest, such as the closure of dealerships or cancellation of contracts.

Wilcox said his dealership has been a high performer for Chrysler and was recognized last year with an award, which he thinks helped keep it off the chopping block. But he also believes Chrysler recognizes rural customers would have to drive great distances for sales and service if they have no dealerships available.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.