Mel Farr is trying to keep a positive attitude about the closing of his two Ford dealerships in Waterford and Oak Park, MI, suburbs of Detroit.
Farr, once a top megadealer, now plans to pursue a dream of opening a used-car superstore and new-car stores in Detroit, says his spokeswoman Charlene Mitchell.
Mitchell confirms that Farr will be making a complete break from Ford, and will soon sell his minority stake in Mel Farr Ford in Grand Blanc, MI, back to his partner.
Farr bought the Waterford store in 1986 and the Oak Park store in 1975 after Farr retired from the Detroit Lions.
Mitchell says a combination of factors motivated Farr to pursue his dream as a minority dealer of opening a location within the city of Detroit; specifically his age and the lack of new-car dealers currently operating in the city.
“New-car dealers have all moved out,” she says. “No one, to my knowledge, has opened a new-car location in Detroit in years. There are a lot of untapped resources and a great need.”
The Detroit Area Dealers Assoc. (DADA) has 13 member dealerships in the city of Detroit. There are five Ford, five GM and three Chrysler stores, but no import retailers operating in the city with a population of 951,270.
Among auto makers with which Farr Automotive is seeking to do business are Hyundai and Kia, which are already sold at his Ferndale, MI, store.
Speculation behind the Ford stores' closings range from Farr owing Ford money, to the automaker not being onboard with his decision to establish a location in Detroit.
Ford spokeswoman Susan Krusel says closing the two stores was Farr's decision. She declined comment on financial matters relating to Ford dealers.
“Our goal is to have the right number of dealers a market can support, and we believe we have the correct number in the market right now,” says Krusel of Farr's desire to open a new-car dealership in Detroit.
Ford Div. President James O'Connor says the closed stores will not reopen under new management.
When asked whether Farr feels the support he's received over the years from Ford is sufficient, Mitchell says, “That's not an issue.” She says his nearly 30 years of selling Ford brands is proof it was a fruitful relationship.
As for what this means for Ford's minority dealers, Gregory Jackson of Prestige Automotive Group in Flushing, MI, and a member of Ford Motor's Minority Dealers Assoc. (FMMDA), doesn't believe the loss of any one dealer will be detrimental to the program and he supports Farr's decision.
“Mel Farr is an icon,” says Jackson. “He's a very intelligent man, I respect his business savvy and he made a decision he felt was best for him and his family.”
Farr is a founding member of FMMDA and his history with Ford dates to his days in the '60s and '70s as a pro football player for the Detroit Lions, a team that is owned by the Ford family.
He is a local celebrity in the Detroit area, well known for appearing in his dealerships' TV commercials, wearing a Superman-like cape and billing himself as “Mel Farr Super Star.”
But in the last couple of years, he faced bad press and class action lawsuits for allegedly charging high interest rates and selling used cars of low quality to people of low means.
In recent years, Farr has divested the majority of his stores, including an import store and a Suzuki store in metro Detroit. He has also sold stores in Ohio, New Jersey, Baltimore and Houston.
Often on the Ward's Dealer Business Megadealer 100 list, he fell from 53rd place in 2000 to 86th in 2001.