Chrysler spares Oak Harbor Motors

Mike Horrobin, owner of Oak Harbor Motors, holds a letter he received from Chrysler Thursday congratulating him on keeping his franchise. - Jessie Stensland/Whidbey News-Times
Mike Horrobin, owner of Oak Harbor Motors, holds a letter he received from Chrysler Thursday congratulating him on keeping his franchise.
— image credit: Jessie Stensland/Whidbey News-Times

Mike Horrobin of Oak Harbor Motors will be able to celebrate 30 years in business this September. More importantly, 25 people will get to keep their jobs.

While 800 Chrysler dealerships got franchise cancelation notices Thursday, Horrobin received a letter officially notifying him that he will be able to keep selling Dodge, Jeep and Chrysler vehicles.

It wasn’t a big surprise for Horrobin, who’s the Pacific Northwest president of the National Dodge Advertising Board.

“What saved me is reputation,” he said. “It’s basically about being a good dealer.”

On Friday, employees just down the street at Frontier Chevrolet were anxiously awaiting a notification from General Motors, which is scheduled to alert 1,100 dealerships that their franchises won’t be renewed next year.

“I think any dealership would be on pins and needles at this point,” Frontier Chevrolet manager Kevin Helwick said in the early afternoon. “We just don’t know.”

It was a tough week for many people who sell new cars, with the two auto companies canceling hundreds of franchise agreements in an attempt to help surviving dealerships become more profitable.

Helwick said the corporations don’t always take into account how devastating a dealership closure can be.

“It would be a big hit for any community,” Helwick said, adding that Frontier employs 40 people.

The car dealerships also contribute sizable sales tax revenue to the community.

Horrobin said he was surprised by some of the 15 Chrysler dealerships in the state that made the closure list. He explained that dealers who sell dual lines of cars — including those besides Chrysler — were more vulnerable because the corporation doesn’t want to spend resources helping other companies. A few may be able to stay in business without a Chrysler franchise.

For now, Horrobin is hopeful about the future of Chrysler and Oak Harbor Motors. His people sold 15 new cars last month, which he said is “a good number” for them anytime — and even more so in the current economy.

He suspects the automaker will come out of bankruptcy as a stronger company.

“It’s kind of like a divorce,” he said. “It allows you to begin anew.”

Horrobin said he looks forward to selling Fiats, if the deal between Chrysler and the European automaker go through. Fiat has an impressive line of vehicles, but unfortunately, Horrobin doubts he’ll be getting any Ferraris in.

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