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Chrysler Dealers Eager to Start Anew in U.s

After the controversial divorce with German parent DaimlerChrysler AG, Chrysler is now going solo with high hopes. Chrysler Group's dealers are now rethinking expansion plans, which were put on hold earlier this year because the company is in limbo. This is their way of starting anew in the United States.

"Do I go ahead with this plan? Do I wait and see?" said John Schenden, the president of Pro Chrysler-Jeep in Denver. "I was sort of dragging my feet a little bit." But when Daimler announced that it was selling the majority stakes of the Auburn Hills automaker to the New York-based private equity firm Cerberus Capital Management, the decision came swiftly. "I had a lot of concerns... but now I'm going full force to get this done," Schenden said. "We're an American company again."

Edmunds.com, a research Web site for auto purchasers, predicts that Chrysler sales will increase by 6.9 percent in May while most rivals will see declines. This is welcome news to dealers who nearly revolted last year as the Auburn Hills automaker pushed them to order excess vehicles they couldn't sell. The tensions led to the ouster late last year of Chrysler's top sales and marketing executive, Joe Eberhardt, an ex-Mercedes officer.

Many Chrysler, Dodge and Jeep dealers nationwide appear enthusiastic to start fresh with Cerberus on the steering wheel and put the controversial year behind them. Chrysler CEO Tom LaSorda told employees that dealer orders were headed back up and inventories were down significantly from last year's bloated levels. And it appears that purchasers are sitting on the sidelines while the former DCX American division was being auctioned are returning to showrooms.

Several dealers said that they were pleased that Chrysler will be an American company again after nearly a decade of German control. Chuck Fortinberry of Clarkston Chrysler Jeep was so moved that he commissioned a painting of a fluttering American flag emblazoned with the words "Bringing Back the Pride" to hang in his dealership. "There's a lot of pride that we're an American owned company again," Fortinberry said.

Next month, dealers will gather in Detroit to talk about future products, innovative offers like more catchy body parts and other essential issues. "Chrysler and Jeep brands are not going to go away," Fortinberry said. "That's where the value is. That's what Cerberus bought. That's the value in the company."

Dealers such as Gordon Farhat of Westborn Chrysler Jeep are speculating if the sale could mean that Chrysler's lending arm - Chrysler Financial - would be consolidated with GMAC, which is majority-owned by Cerberus. And although Chrysler could ramp up its push to further reduce its 3,750 sales outlets, Farhat thinks strong dealers have nothing to worry about. "Twenty-two of the top dealerships in the country are in Michigan," Farhat said. "Dealerships like us aren't going to go away."

At the Pro Chrysler-Jeep in Denver, an expansion project includes an addition acre of land as well as a renovation of the exterior and 28,000-square-foot showroom.

About The Author Katie Jones writes for a local newspaper and her beat involves the latest updates in the automotive industry.
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