Steven plans to reopen west-side Chrysler

Mike Steven Auto Group is making plans to return as a Chrysler dealer in west Wichita.

Harold Johnson, CEO of Mike Steven Auto, said Wednesday that the company received a letter and paperwork from Chrysler Group to reinstate the dealership it lost in June as part of the automaker's bankruptcy.

Chrysler said last week that it was offering to reinstate 50 of the 789 dealers it previously tried to drop while it was making its way through Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. The 50 dealers were among 418 that sought arbitration to appeal the automaker's decision to terminate their franchise agreements.

Johnson said Mike Steven Auto was part of the group seeking arbitration but will drop it now that it has been offered reinstatement.

Johnson said initial plans call for new and used car dealer Brandon Steven to become a joint venture partner in reopening the former Steven Chrysler Dodge Jeep store.

The reopening could happen at the dealership's former location at 11028 W. Kellogg or could be in a different spot on the west side, Brandon Steven said.

"We're not sure yet," said Brandon Steven, who will be the operating partner in the reinstated Chrysler dealership. He also is the managing partner of Eddy's Toyota, which is also owned by Mike Steven Auto.

Brandon Steven said once the paperwork has been signed and sent back to Chrysler, the automaker will have its people come out and evaluate the former store to see if it still conforms to its dealership specifications, which dictate requirements such as size of the building, the lot and the appearance.

Mike Steven Auto renovated the West Kellogg building a few years ago, after it had purchased Don Schmid Dodge Jeep and was awarded the west-side Chrysler franchise.

Johnson said it's unfortunate that so much time has passed since the company shut down the Chrysler Dodge Jeep store.

Because Chrysler pulled Steven's franchise, Johnson said his company has sold everything off — new car inventory, parts and tooling. Most of the employees, including its auto technicians, have taken jobs in other Mike Steven Auto dealerships or are no longer with the company.

"It's kind of a bittersweet situation," Johnson said.

Restarting the dealership will mean starting from nothing, which is OK with Brandon Steven.

"The future is we have a brand-new situation here. It's a great opportunity," Brandon Steven said.

That's why Brandon Steven said he is getting involved in bringing back the Chrysler dealership. "It's so fun to start from scratch," he said.

Plus, Brandon Steven said, "It's a great opportunity for me to have a huge (sales) point out west."

Johnson said Mike Steven Auto wanted Brandon Steven involved in the revival of the Chrysler store because he's had great success with Eddy's Toyota since becoming its managing partner in May. He's significantly boosted Eddy's parts business as well as made big gains in improving customer satisfaction, Johnson said.

"He's got really good marketing skills," Johnson said.

Brandon Steven is a cousin to Mike Steven. He also owns three other dealerships —Brandon Steven Motors, Subaru of Wichita and Steven Ford-Mercury in Augusta — and is a partner in Suzuki of Wichita.

Brandon Steven said he hopes to reopen the Chrysler dealership by the end of the summer, if not sooner.

Dawson Grimsley, president of Davis-Moore Auto Group, which owns and operates the city's only active Chrysler Dodge Jeep dealership, said he didn't think the reinstatement would affect his dealership's business.

"Oh, no. I'm just going to keep doing what I do," Grimsley said.