More than a year after being one of 16 Kansas Chrysler dealers to lose their franchises, Steven Chrysler Dodge Jeep is back in business. The dealership, at 11028 W. Kellogg, began selling new cars and trucks in mid-October.
Staff has been hired and new signs are in place, but the work to convert the dealership back to its Chrysler look is incomplete.
There's still about $40,000 to $50,000 worth of work left on a design package for the interior showroom, said Harold Johnson, CEO of Mike Steven Auto Group.
"It took forever," Johnson said of the process of becoming a Chrysler dealer again.
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He said the company received a letter of intent from Chrysler in April reinstating it as a dealer.
In May 2009, a then-bankrupt Chrysler announced it would terminate franchise agreements with more than 700 dealers, including Steven and 15 other dealers in Kansas. Then in late March 2010, Chrysler said it would reinstate 50 dealers in the U.S.
The paperwork for Steven Auto Group to get reinstated was finished in September. But it didn't get cars from Chrysler until October because the carmaker was closing out its 2010 lineup and starting production on its 2011 Chrysler, Dodge and Jeep models.
"The shocker was ordering cars," Johnson said. "It's a lot different than it used to be."
For one, there were fewer cars to order. And, Johnson said, the dealership will be able to get new cars and trucks only once a month, unless it gets inventory from another dealer.
"Which is probably good," he said. "They won't be sitting on too much inventory.
"Under the previous regime, they would call you and say, 'Take these cars.' "
Johnson said the dealership has about 35 employees. He said the company was able to hire some experienced technicians and parts staff.
He said revamping the building into a Chrysler store didn't require a huge expense, largely because the building was renovated in 2004 to Chrysler's design livery at the time, called Alpha.
"We were originally an Alpha store and that fits in with their new Genesis (design) project," Johnson said.
He added that the company spent about $75,000 on new signs.
Johnson said after it lost the Chrysler franchise, customers still came to the dealership — which had been converted to a used car dealership — looking to get warranty work done. Though Steven could no longer do that, customers still elected to get routine maintenance such as oil changes and tune-ups done there.
So when Chrysler offered to reinstate Steven as a dealer, Johnson said, "We had the facilities out there and we had a great customer base out there so we thought ... 'Let's take a shot at it.' "
Earlier, car dealer Brandon Steven — a cousin to Mike Steven — had planned to be involved in the re-opening and operations of the Chrysler dealership.
But Brandon Steven said he is busy with his other dealerships, including Eddy's Toyota, and that's where his attention needs to be.