published Wednesday, February 1st, 2012

Crown Automotive buys Kile Chrysler

Bill Kile was spared the ax when Chrysler shut down hundreds of dealerships during the recession, but after three more years he decided it was time to exit the auto business and sold the company to Florida-based Crown Automotive Group.

The sale closed last week.

"I guess it was just time for me to get out," Kile said Tuesday.

He originally bought what was then the Calloway Chrysler Plymouth Dodge dealership in 1979, as legendary businessman Lee Iacocca was taking the reins of the then-beleaguered Chrysler brand.

"Things got so bad for Chrysler, and it was in '80 or '81 that they had the bailout from the government," Kile remembers. "We've had a lot of ups and downs."

That wasn't Chrysler's only bailout.

U.S. officials were again forced to come to its aid in 2008, something Kile called at the time, "a little bit scary."

But bookended between bailouts, Kile remembers the good times.

His favorite memory is a 1996 revamp of the property that saw a refreshed building and expanded lot, but these days he's ready for a more relaxed pace.

"It's always been good for me, Chrysler has always been good for me," Kile said. "I'll make it out eventually and fool around with some used cars when I don't have a lot to do."

Meanwhile, the 90-year-old dealership will continue under the Crown Automotive Group, which already runs one of the largest Chrysler dealerships in the nation at its Chattanooga location.

The new name is Crown Chrysler, Dodge, Jeep, Ram of Cleveland, to differentiate it from the Chattanooga location.

As part of the deal between Kile and Crown, the Cleveland dealership will retain the 30 existing employees, including Kile family members, said Tim Roussell, general manager for both Crown's Chattanooga and Cleveland locations.

"Basically it's changed hands behind the scenes, but it's business as usual," Roussell said. "We thought it was important to keep the existing employees, just like we did in Chattanooga."

The plan is to hire 10 additional workers to bring the total number to 40, and double the number of cars in the lot, he said. Roussell also plans a refresh of the dealership's service and technical facilities, bringing in new computers and equipment.

"With that type of demand in this type of area, we have to have big inventory to take care of such demand," Roussell said. "Kile was a smaller dealer and Crown is coming in with a bigger inventory."

With the Cleveland and Chattanooga dealerships under its umbrella, Crown will have a "distribution hub," and a certain degree of control over the Chattanooga area market, he said.

Customers will be able to choose from about 200 vehicles at the former Kile location, and another 300 in Chattanooga, Roussell said.

The way he looks at it, "total availability is 500, because we can just drive a car up 20 minutes if we need to."

That doesn't include 250 used cars in Chattanooga, and the addition of commercial vehicles at its Cleveland dealership.

Kile's deal with Crown is a symptom of the booming economy in Bradley County, said Jim Myers, president of the Crown Automotive Group.

For Myers, the acquisition made sense in the context of the area's growth.

"More and more national and international businesses find Cleveland a desirable home and the population continues to grow at a rapid pace," Myers said in a statement released Tuesday. "We're honored to become a contributor to Cleveland's growth and excited about this important new part of the Crown Automotive family."

His company operates 26 dealerships in Florida, Ohio and Tennessee, and employs 750 workers.

about Ellis Smith...

Ellis Smith joined the Chattanooga Times Free Press in January 2010 as a business reporter. His beat includes the flooring industry, Chattem, Unum, Krystal, the automobile market, real estate and technology. Ellis is from Marietta, Ga., and has a bachelor’s degree in mass communication at the University of West Georgia. He previously worked at UTV-13 News, Carrollton, Ga., as a producer; at the The West Georgian, Carrollton, Ga., as editor; and at the Times-Georgian, Carrollton, ...

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