NEW YORK — Auto carriers this week delivered the first vehicles to General Motors Corp.'s new Harlem Auto Mall, the first new-car dealership in upper Manhattan in 40 years.
However, some of the 350,000 motorists who pass the site daily have been coming in for weeks in an attempt to service or buy vehicles, officials say, even though the mall didn't open for business until this month.
The mall contains Chevrolet/Saturn and Cadillac/Hummer dealerships whose owners forecast they will sell a combined 250 new vehicles per month.
Otis Thornton, a GM dealer since 1993, is the principal of the Chevrolet/Saturn dealership. Craig Lee, a minority partner of the Potamkin dealer organization, is president and executive manager of Potamkin Cadillac/Hummer.
GM established the Chevrolet/Saturn store as part of its Minority Development Program. The corporation has 357 minority-owned dealerships.
Potamkin, which at one time operated six Manhattan GM franchises, developed the Cadillac/Hummer facility. Potamkin is part of Planet Automotive, owner of 70 dealerships in eight states, with combined sales of more than $1.6 billion annually.
Thornton also owns East Brunswick Buick Pontiac GMC in New Jersey. He tells Ward's he plans to drive more than 200 miles daily from his home in Orange County, NY, to manage both stores.
Thornton predicts the New York dealership will sell 100 Chevrolet and 50 Saturn vehicles per month. He expects Chevrolet's SUVs to do well in the market, and he predicts the Equinox cross/utility vehicle will be particularly popular with upper Manhattan buyers.
At opening, the Chevrolet/Saturn dealership will have 30 sales people and 25 workers staffing the parts department and manning its 22 service bays. Thornton says almost half the dealership's revenue will be derived from the service department.
Thornton has put a lot of emphasis on catering to a multi-ethnic clientele. He says various employees will be capable of speaking Spanish, Chinese, Korean, Portuguese and German.
“Regardless of your ethnic background, we can make you feel comfortable,” Thornton says. “We are a community-minded business and the employees come from the community.”
Lee forecasts his operation will sell 40 Hummers and 60 Cadillacs monthly. He expects almost 35% of Cadillac sales to be utility vehicles. Although about 45% of his business is likely to come from the service department, Lee also is counting on the huge flow of traffic that passes his facility every day to bring in new-vehicle buyers.
GM is hoping the Harlem mall can help it boost Manhattan sales. Mark L. Valerio, GM's regional director-northeast dealer network planning, says the company only has a 10% share of the Manhattan market.
Its market share in the rest of the metro-New York area that consists of 27 counties in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut is 16%.
Valerio says the 550,000 people who live in upper Manhattan have not had a local dealer in 40 years. He says the mall is part of the revitalization of Harlem, where the population's buying power is surprisingly robust.
Valerio forecasts about half the sales of the Harlem mall will be incremental to GM. Harlem car buyers might choose a GM vehicle because the dealership is local, he suggests.