Chrysler dealers, including Milford's, brace for closure

At noontime Thursday, not long after owners of Chrysler dealerships across the state received letters informing them that as part of a bankruptcy restructuring they were ordered to close, a single customer sat inside the showroom at Medlyn Motor on Elm Street.

Several shiny Jeeps filled the small interior, and the sound of power tools played like Muzak from the nearby service department.

Inside a curtained front office, hushed voices, unintelligible, save for the occasional syllable, rose and fell. And then, like a gunshot piercing the silence, came a woman’s voice: “These are extra-ordinary times.”

They were familiar words.

Fewer than two weeks ago, in a Manhattan courtroom, Corinne Ball of Jones Day, Chrysler’s lead bankruptcy lawyer, had observed: “I don’t think that any American can doubt that these are extraordinary times.”

Medlyn Motor Inc. is one of 789 dealerships nationwide and six in New Hampshire that received pink slips Thursday, and it is one of four out of ships.

The other closed dealers are in Belmont, Concord, Peterborough, Rochester and Stratham.

The news hit owner Ed Medlyn like a sucker punch.

“Call me in a couple of days,” he said after the newspaper requested an interview Thursday afternoon.

Chrysler, the third largest American automaker, has about 3,200 dealerships. The company said it wants fewer but more profitable dealerships with better facilities.

Under a restructuring plan, Chrysler plans to form a partnership with the Italian carmaker Fiat, known for its compact and sub-compact cars.

Peter McNamara, president of the New Hampshire Automobile Dealers Association, said Medlyn and the other New Hampshire Chrysler dealers who are being cut have received a double whammy.

“Number one, it’s unfortunate for them and their employees,” McNamara said. “And to add insult to injury, Chrysler won’t buy back any cars, parts or tools.”

The loss is even greater for the four dealerships that, like Medlyn, don’t own other dealerships.

McNamara said the state association plans to help the affected dealerships make contact with dealers who were spared. It’s possible that some of the remaining businesses will buy the leftover inventory.

The state trade organization also plans to offer other support to affected dealers, including seminars on exiting the business as well as programs on dealing with both the legal and emotional ramifications of the loss.

McNamara said even dealers that are remaining will face big changes and need assistance.

For example, dealerships like Contemporary Chrysler, located on the opposite side of Elm Street, not far from Medlyn, may need help in understanding the new contracts that Chrysler is expected to produce in conjunction with Fiat.

David Hammer, who owns Contemporary Chrysler-Dodge with his wife Audrey Mello-Hammer, is one of the dealers who received good news from Chrysler yesterday.

But his response was tempered.

“It’s very tough,” Hammer said during an interview at the Elm Street showroom on Thursday. “I can’t feel anything but respect for him (Medlyn), compassion for him, empathy for him.”

Hammer said his positive news from Chrysler, which arrived in a single-page letter delivered by UPS carrier on Thursday morning, signaled a gearing up rather than a letting down.

“There’s a lot of hard work ahead of us,” he said. “My job as the dealer is to keep the team focused on what we can do, selling another car, pleasing another customer.”

In recent weeks, Hammer was in Concord monitoring legislation, signed into law last week, that aims to help auto dealers and employees after manufacturers close dealerships. The law also protects customers by allowing local dealers to continue servicing their vehicles.

In Milford, Medlyn’s Chrysler dealership isn’t the only casualty. The General Motors dealership Accent Auto closed recently and the town’s only Ford dealership closed several years ago.

Hammer, the owner of Contemporary Chrysler, said that rather than focus on the grim economic indicators he’s choosing to look on the bright side. That means bypassing data on the declining rate of new vehicle purchases nationally, which he said was 16.5 million a year during the past 18 months and just 9.5 percent in April.

“It’s really not Chrysler as a corporation,” Hammer said, pointing to economic circumstances he described as “a perfect storm.”