At closed Hecker lots, blocked driveways, silence

  • Article by: JOHN EWOLDT , Star Tribune
  • Updated: November 22, 2008 - 10:41 PM

There were plenty of new cars at Denny Hecker's six newly closed Twin Cities dealerships Saturday, but the salesmen were gone and computers had been removed from their desks.

At six Twin Cities Denny Hecker dealerships where banners and balloons typically beckon would-be car buyers, all was quiet Saturday.

Vehicles at the Denny Hecker Hyundai lot in Roseville had been put to a new use -- blocking off the entrances. The showroom doors were locked. At the used-car lot next door, desks had been cleaned off and computers had been removed. A sheet of paper taped to the doors referred people to a toll-free phone number and an e-mail address.

The five other dealerships Hecker closed Friday are the Blaine Bargain Lot; Forest Lake Chrysler Jeep Dodge Mitsubishi; Monticello Dodge Ford and Mercury Suzuki Kia; Shakopee Chrysler Jeep Dodge; and Stillwater Ford Lincoln Mercury.

Although Hecker's automobile empire faced particular problems as he battled legal actions that had severely restricted his access to credit and challenged his multi-brand dealerships, a bleak landscape also confronts many of his fellow dealers, said Scott Lambert, vice president of the Minnesota Auto Dealers Association.

"Every dealership in the country is facing the same problems of plunging sales and difficult credit terms for their inventory," Lambert said. "We've lost another five dealerships in Minnesota since mid-September and we expect to lose more in 30 days."

The Big Three automakers also are struggling to keep their dashboards above water, pleading with politicians for a federal bailout package of loans totaling $25 billion.

Hecker's Stillwater Ford Lincoln Mercury dealership also was deserted Saturday morning. Those who approached the dealership were met on the lot by a security guard. Two miles west, at Hecker's still-open Stillwater Cadillac Pontiac GMC, employees said they had been instructed not to talk about the closings, referring reporters to company officials.

The closings cost about 400 workers their jobs, another blow to the Minnesota economy. State employment figures released last week showed that dealerships had shed 2,000 jobs in October alone.

Also on Friday, Hecker sold his Hyundai and Volkswagen dealerships in Inver Grove Heights, which will remain open along with Hecker's 10 other dealerships. Hecker also sold a California dealership Friday.

A few stragglers who may have wanted service on their vehicles came and went at the Roseville Hyundai lot Saturday morning, said Greg Davis, general manager at Walser Pontiac GMC, across the street from the Hecker dealership that shut down Friday. If customers wants to pick up a vehicle being serviced at a closed dealership, they should show up at the dealership Monday, said Jon Austin, a spokesman for Hecker.

"Arrangements will be made to complete the repair at the dealership or elsewhere," he said.

Anyone who has warranty concerns can choose another dealer by the same manufacturer for service. Those with maintenance agreements can call 1-888-836-8383 or e-mail customer@dennyhecker.com according to Austin.

At this time, Hecker has no plans to close additional dealerships, according to Austin, but Hecker's problems have been compounded with other financial and legal troubles. A month ago Chrysler Financial shut off the dealer's credit lines. Hecker then sued Chrysler Financial, saying it damaged his business.

Since then, General Motors filed suit in U.S. District Court to prevent Hecker from selling Hyundai vehicles at his Southview Chevrolet dealership in Inver Grove Heights.

In a statement released Friday, Hecker attributed his dealer realignments to a "perfect storm" of Wall Street financial crises, a chaotic housing market, record low consumer confidence and the humbling sight of Big Three executives "on their knees asking for a bailout loan."

There are more than 130 new-car franchises in the Twin Cities area, said Bill Abraham, president of the Greater Minnesota Auto Dealers Association. Hecker's dozen-plus new-car dealerships represented about 10 percent of that total.

Staff writer Norman Draper contributed to this report. John Ewoldt • 612-673-7633

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