Local GM dealer hopes to stay open

Published 9:59 pm Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Suffolk’s only General Motors dealer said she’s sorry to see the Pontiac brand go, and hopes that she won’t be one of the 1,000 dealers GM reportedly will force to close.

“What you’ve heard and read in the papers is all that I know,” said Lydia Duke, president and dealer at Duke Automotive Corporation on North Main Street.

Duke said she will be one of thousands of GM dealers throughout the country waiting on an upcoming decision from General Motors Corp. on which dealers will be closed or merged with other dealerships.

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However, Duke said she is hopeful that Duke Automotive will be able to continue serving Suffolk and the surrounding areas. She is the only GM dealer in the city, and is only one of a few in the country to offer Chevrolet, Pontiac, Buick and GMC brands in the same location.

“It’s not my decision,” she stressed. “As a retailer, I’m waiting to hear from the manufacturer. There will be major input from Washington.”

“It’s going to come down to a numbers game,” she added.

General Motors Corp. is undergoing restructuring as a part of the federal government bailout of the company. GM has received billions from the government in order to try to avoid bankruptcy.

As part of that restructuring, GM will phase out lower-selling lines of cars, including Pontiacs, in order to “devote its limited capital and other resources to GM’s four core brands: Chevrolet, Cadillac, Buick and GMC,” according to Susan Docherty, GM North American vice president.

GM originally hoped to convert Pontiac to a niche brand within the Buick-Pontiac-GMC division, Docherty said in a statement on the Pontiac Web site. However, the Obama administration did not accept the plan as submitted, and GM was forced to take more significant action.

“The Pontiac is a sporty, great car and I hated to see it go, but we have to do what the task force recommends,” Duke said. She has seen the same situation before, however, when the Oldsmobile line of cars was phased out.

The Pontiac Web site states that warranties on the cars will be honored, and parts will be available for “the foreseeable future.” Duke encouraged owners of GM’s eliminated brands not to sell their cars.

“Don’t take the cars to a cliff and just drive them off,” she said. Duke added that many Oldsmobile owners have kept their cars to this day, hoping they will be special editions in the future.

“I have some Pontiacs sitting on my lot,” Duke said. “I feel sure that if GM honored the Oldsmobile warranties, they will honor them for Pontiacs.”

The Pontiac brand will be phased out by next year, the Web site reported.

Duke said the hardest thing about the automotive crisis for her is that Duke Automotive can no longer support community groups, events and functions they have in years past.

“Even though Suffolk has grown since I came here in 1971, it still has a hometown feel for me,” she said. “One of the hardest things about all of this is I had to pull back our horns and had to protect the company and employees,” she said. “That hurts when you’re asked by your community … and I have to say no.”

Duke said the economic crisis should alert Americans that it is important to spend locally.

“This is a big wakeup call for all of us, because it all goes around,” she said. “We’re not out here on an island, not any of us.”

“We hope to get back to doing the business we used to do.”