In what appears to be a sign of difficult financial times, two local car dealerships have closed in Statesboro - Trapnell Chrysler-Dodge-Jeep on Highway 301 South and NeSmith Select on the Veterans Memorial Parkway.
Ralph Trapnell declined to speak to the Herald regarding the closing of his dealership, and a comment was not issued by the owners of NeSmith Select.
Statesboro's three largest remaining car dealers spoke with the Herald regarding the challenges facing the automotive sales industry and their dealerships in particular.
"We have seen these times before," said Frank Rozier, owner of Rozier Ford Lincoln Mercury on Highway 301 South in Statesboro. "You are going to have cyclical ups and downs. We try to prepare ourselves for the slow times."
Rozier said he has cut back some of his inventory and lowered his expenses. He also said that his employees have been asked to do more than one job in some cases.
"Everyone has to pitch in," he said. "We are all part of a team, and in some cases it means that we have to take on additional responsibilities. But, we will get through this. People still need transportation. Cars and trucks are the best form of transportation that we have at this point in time."
Rozier said he has seen a real decline in truck sales and isn't sure what the effect on the truck market will be going forward.
"There will always be buyers for trucks, I just don't think it will be as big as it has been in the past," he said. "There has definitely been a shift in the market. People are going more into the 'cross-over' type vehicles. We will just have to see, because people in this area love their trucks."
Rozier said the national news media would have you believe that it is difficult to get a loan to buy a truck or an automobile at this time.
"Ford Credit is lending money to buy cars," he said. "They have told us repeatedly that they have money, we just need buyers."
Cleve White, owner of Cleve White Nissan on Highway 301 South in Statesboro, said he has been able to find sources of credit for his customers as well. "Nissan has tightened up their lending," White said. "Getting financed is a lot more difficult now, but, we have a number of alternative lending sources that we are using, and our customers are being financed. So, we are selling cars and had a great month in September considering all that has happened. No doubt, it is a very tough market right now."
White said he is thankful that his banker alerted him six months ago about the coming downturn in the economy.
"Chris Cliett at First Southern Bank foresaw trouble coming in the marketplace," he said. "He told me that it was going to get tough, and that I needed to start cutting expenses and become as lean as I possibly could. We were preparing for this a few months ago. The bank has been my biggest asset through all of this."
Veteran automotive dealer Robbie Franklin said as bad as things may seem today, times are not as bad as they were in the late 1970's and early 1980's.
"During that time, the interest rate to finance a car was as much as 22 percent," he said. "You talk about tough times for the car industry. That was bad."
Franklin owns Franklin Chevrolet and Franklin Toyota Scion in Statesboro. Like White and Rozier, Franklin said financing the car purchase is not the problem, it is finding buyers.
"GMAC has tightened up, but we have a number of sources for financing," he said. "We need traffic, we need buyers. I think there is the perception out there that you cannot get a loan, and that just isn't the case. On top of that, the manufacturers are offering great incentives to buy. It is a buyer's market, no doubt."
Franklin, Rozier, and White said they are prepared to "ride out" the downturn in the marketplace.
"I have been here for almost nine years, and Frank (Rozier) and Robbie (Franklin) have been in the business for decades," White said. "They know what to do so I am sure that they will be fine. I have done the things that I needed to do to prepare us for this, so I feel like we will be fine as well. It's just a matter of working hard and running your business like it should be run."
Franklin said one of the unexpected outgrowths of the decline in the economy has been the increased amount of service business that his dealerships are doing.
"Our service business is up over 30 percent," he said. "I guess people are making more of an effort to take care of the cars that they own. We did not expect an increase like that. Even so, tell everybody to come see me, we've got financing, and we've got cars."