That’s how long Ron Fortune was the area’s Saab automobile dealer before General Motors, which was working its way through bankruptcy reorganization, announced in December 2009 that it was unwinding the Swedish brand after it was unable to complete a sale of it.
In the almost four years since – through on-again, off-again, on-again expectations of the brand’s return – Fortune has had to adapt to business without a Saab franchise.
“There’s a whole lot of things in life you can’t control,” Fortune said last week. “It’s disappointing, some of the stuff that’s happened. (Saab) was a big part of our business. But it wasn’t the only focus we had.”
In the business since 1973, Fortune has been through more than a few up-and-down cycles in the car buiness.
But it wasn’t really until 1983, when he had a permanent home for what is now Euro-Tech Saab at 1122 E. Central, that Fortune formally incorporated the business, originally as Euro-Tech Motorwerks.
Fortune said his interest in working on cars “under a shade tree” began in high school. By the time he graduated from Wichita State University with a business degree, he had a steady stream of people whose cars, mainly Mercedes, he was repairing on the side.
“I never had time to send out a resume,” he said. “I kept fixing cars.”
As his repair business grew, Fortune transitioned from under the hood of a car to locating hard-to-find used import cars and, later, selling them.
Today, he estimated that about half of his sales come from locating cars for buyers.
In 1994, Fortune had his first brush as a new car dealer. That was when French carmaker Pugeot signed up Euro-Tech. But that relationship lasted all of 10 months, he said, when Pugeot decided to stop selling its cars in the U.S.
“I guess if you want to leave the country, just sign us up,” Fortune said, laughing.
But he wasn’t laughing five years ago, when GM announced it was ending the Saab brand. That announcement was the beginning of a roller coaster for Fortune, he said.
After GM announced the brand’s fate, a deal was made between it and Dutch carmaker Spyker, and it was completed about two months later. But Spyker, which was later renamed Swedish Automobile, struggled to raise enough money to keep the company afloat. In April 2011 it stopped production and in December it filed bankruptcy.
In September 2012, National Electric Vehicle Sweden, a Hong Kong-based company, bought the brand out of bankruptcy and in December of this year rolled its first new Saab car, the 9-3 Aero Sedan, off the production floor. NEVS said it plans to sell the Aero Sedan in Sweden and China but has not announced if its distribution plans will eventually include the U.S.
For a while, the loss of the franchise hurt business. Fortune said he had to downsize, including letting a few people go.
“It was just like, boom!” he said. “One day you’re going along great and then, it was not. We did downsize a little, but we are back up to where we were before” in number of staff.
Fortune said Euro-Tech employs eight full-time and two part-time workers.
To get through the downturn, Fortune ramped up his used car sales. Today, he even sells a fair number of domestic vehicles, he said.
On this day, he’s got some Toyotas, Nissans, Pontiacs and Chevys on the lot, as well as a Cadillac. But he also has several BMWs, Mercedes-Benzes, a 1989 Lotus Esprit Turbo, a 1959 Corvette and a 1955 Jaguar XK-140.
He said the business has stabilized from a combination of used car sales, locating services and automobile repair. He attributes repeat and referral business to keeping Euro-Tech going, adding that between 70 and 80 percent of his customers are repeat or referrals.
“I have fun doing this, although it’s not as much fun as it used to be,” Fortune said.
He said he still doesn’t know if he will be a Saab dealer again, even though he’s kept Saab on his dealership’s sign and remains an authorized parts and service center. He said if offered the chance to be a Saab dealer again, he would do it.
“I’m still a Saab fan,” he said. “I just think it’s a great car.”