Danbury, CT — General Motors Corp.'s sales chief came to this New England town to show off an ultra-modern new dealership building on a day when the headlines were grabbed by the unexpected leasing pullbacks at domestic automakers.
Mark LaNeve, GM's group vice-president for sales, service and marketing, had just emailed all GM dealers that July's GMAC leasing programs would be maintained through August and loan offers would be enhanced to retain most of the reduced payments that attract lease customers.
“GMAC is not exiting the lease business in the U.S.,” LaNeve tells a media session at Saturn of Danbury, builder of a new $2 million dealership on the city's Federal Road auto row. The question was inevitable, considering GMAC's decision to terminate leasing in Canada and Chrysler LLC's abandonment of leasing in the U.S.
“We're working on new model clear-out programs that will extend zero percent/72-month loan offers for low-credit-risk buyers on selected vehicles,” LaNeve says.
“Leasing is a huge marketing factor in the Greater New York City market, including here in Fairfield County, and we sure know how vital it is in customer retention. Personally, I wish leasing was free, so that it would keep customers coming back for new cars on a lifetime basis.”
Saturn of Danbury owner Todd Ingersoll says a 30% leasing rate has helped his store outsell every competitor in town except Honda and Toyota. He said that a number of banks, including Wachovia, and several lenders are continuing as vehicle lessors.
“I expect to sell 700 new cars and 400 used this year in a tough market,” Ingersoll says. “The new building and Saturn's product growth, now into Astras and four-cylinder Auras, are giving traffic and actual sales a boost already.”
On hand for the Connecticut dealership event was Saturn chief Jill Lajdziak, who flatly denies a Wall Street Journal report that the Saturn brand might be for sale, along with Hummer.
“The answer to that question is right here in this Generation 3 Saturn building,” said Lajdziak. “Two other Saturn stores are completing new buildings like this one, in Coral Gables, FL, and Grand Rapids, MI, and we know of more dealers who are planning upgrades like this later on.”
“Saturn's product lineup is in great shape, with hybrid-engine availability on the Vue and Aura, keen interest in the new Astra, and residual values and our average transaction price of $24,000 up sharply from 2007. And the Sky 2-seater had its best month in June since its rollout in 2005.”
Ingersoll, who owns a second Saturn store in Watertown, MA, introduced arty showroom panels, plush armchairs and dazzling lighting in the new buildings, and kept a Saturn tradition of customer photos for every delivery. The new building displays the delivery photos digital-style on a TV screen in the showroom.