Originally created 12/19/06

Dealers play musical chairs



Two Augusta car dealers will be switching franchises early in the new year.

Bobby Jones Ford is set to acquire the Lincoln Mercury brand from Augusta Lincoln Mercury. Augusta Lincoln Mercury will simultaneously pick up Bobby Jones Ford's Suzuki franchise.

Financial terms of the deal, set to close during the first week of January pending approval from the automakers, was not disclosed.

Bobby Jones Ford Vice President Bud Lawrence said the deal is a natural fit because it puts all of Ford Motor Co.'s domestic brands under one roof for the dealership.

He also said the acquisition was somewhat prompted by Ford's national restructuring program, which aims to reduce the number of dealerships by 20 percent through voluntary mergers at the dealership level.

Ford has said its declining market share can no longer support its existing number of dealerships.

"We've been proactive," Mr. Lawrence said. "We thought we needed to act. We'll be a stronger dealership for it."

The dealership will be renamed Bobby Jones Ford Lincoln Mercury. Mr. Lawrence said signs are expected to change and inventory to be moved to the lot at the corner of Bobby Jones Expressway and Wrightsboro Road by the end of January.

Mike Lacey, the owner of Augusta Lincoln Mercury on Washington Road, will acquire the Suzuki franchise that he previously owned when it occupied a standalone location on Washington Road in Evans.

That property, later acquired by Fairway Ford, is now occupied by a credit union.

Mr. Lacey said he is pleased to get the Suzuki franchise back.

"This is something I've wanted to do," he said. "Suzuki's sales are up about 40 percent."

The dealership will be called Augusta Suzuki.

Mr. Lacey said he plans to thin as much of his Lincoln and Mercury vehicles as possible with close-out sales through the end of the month. He said his 4-acre lot at the corner of Washington and Pleasant Home roads initially will hold about 100 vehicles.

Lincoln Mercury sales have been dropping for years and were down 6.2 percent this year through November.

Ford Motor Co. spokesman Jim Cain said he did not have details on the Bobby Jones Ford deal and could not provide information on what the company's preferred number of Ford-affiliated dealerships in the Augusta area should be.

According to Ford's Web site, there are 10 Ford dealerships in a 40-mile radius of Augusta.

Mr. Cain said that any dealership consolidations would be voluntary and would be handled at the local level between the dealerships.

"That's going to play out in the next two to three years," he said. "The goal is to make sure you have facilities for sales and service, but enough throughput so that dealers can be profitable day in and day out."

Reach Damon Cline at (706) 823-3486 or damon.cline@augustachronicle.com.