Crisis on Dealers' Row

Car dealers are fighting for survival, and maybe an upper hand, as business turns cold.

1 of 4
BACKNEXT
The freeze
I recently walked down Northern Boulevard, the center of auto sales in the New York City borough of Queens. There I found varying degrees of fear, hope and anger among dealers whose livelihood depends on selling people cars. The problem is - no one's buying them.

"I used to be proud of this country," said one dealer, who did not wish to be identified by name. A recent immigrant, he now managed a small lot. "I used to shout wherever I went, all over the world, how great America is. The land of opportunity. You can achieve whatever you want. Now, look at all this."

His dealership was empty, not only of customers, but of staff. No one greeted me as I entered because the receptionist had already been laid off - so had most of the salespeople.

When I found the manager in a back office, he first said he couldn't help me. But then he talked for about a half hour about the poor state of his business. Sales have fallen 80% from last year. He used to have 20 sellers on staff; now he has five.

He talked about the independent used-car lots on Northern Boulevard that were shuttered and for sale. Real estate agents used to want $200,000 up front for a lot like that, he said. Now they're not moving at all.

The prospect of major auto manufacturers getting $25 billion from a government bailout struck him as a pathetic waste. "Why give that money to them?" he asked. "Give that to the people. Give it to us, the small-business people."

He blamed the banks, which had once financed the cars he sold, for causing the crash that now threatened to wipe him out. He said lenders recklessly gave auto loans to buyers who clearly weren't able, or willing, to pay their debts.

"I would say, 'Why in the world are you financing this guy!'" Now those same lenders won't write loans for the very few customers that do come through his doors.


NEXT: James Park
Last updated December 26 2008: 9:02 AM ET
More Galleries
Some Converse copycats cost big bucks A few bargain brands got swept up in Chuck Taylor's net, but others cost a pretty penny. More
Urban infrastructure gets a second life Railroad beds become parks, power plants become aquariums and slaughterhouses are now art centers as an industrial past turns people-centric. More
Boomtown moms From working mothers raising their kids in RVs to stay-at-home moms who spend their days organizing events for the Oil Wives club, meet the moms of North Dakota's oil boom. More

Special Offer

Most stock quote data provided by BATS. Market indices are shown in real time, except for the DJIA, which is delayed by two minutes. All times are ET. Disclaimer.

Morningstar: © 2014 Morningstar, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Factset: FactSet Research Systems Inc. 2014. All rights reserved.

Chicago Mercantile Association: Certain market data is the property of Chicago Mercantile Exchange Inc. and its licensors. All rights reserved.

Dow Jones: The Dow Jones branded indices are proprietary to and are calculated, distributed and marketed by DJI Opco, a subsidiary of S&P Dow Jones Indices LLC and have been licensed for use to S&P Opco, LLC and CNN. Standard & Poor's and S&P are registered trademarks of Standard & Poor’s Financial Services LLC and Dow Jones is a registered trademark of Dow Jones Trademark Holdings LLC. All content of the Dow Jones branded indices © S&P Dow Jones Indices LLC 2014 and/or its affiliates.