Prebul Chrysler Jeep Dodge may be on the chopping block, but that doesn't mean Chattanooga will be stuck without a Chrysler dealer, according to regional auto dealer Carl Gregory.
Mr. Gregory bid $40,000 for the franchise rights to Joseph Prebul's now-bankrupt Chapman Road business, and he says he plans to pursue a dealership here even if his agreement in U.S. Bankruptcy Court crumbles.
Chrysler announced this week it will close almost 800 dealerships nationwide, including Mr. Prebul's, and the ramifications on Mr. Prebul's bankruptcy case are still unclear. But Mr. Gregory isn't waiting around to find out.
"We are going to move forward as if we're going to be the next dealer in Chattanooga," said Mr. Gregory, who already owns dealerships in Georgia, Alabama and Tennessee, including five Chrysler franchises.
Joe Kirby, owner of Edd Kirby Adventure Chevrolet in Dalton, Ga., is a fellow Chrysler retailer and says it's altogether possible that the manufacturer will approve Mr. Gregory's application.
"Of course he can still go for it, but he'll have to go through Chrysler" rather than Mr. Prebul's bankruptcy trustee, Jerrold Farinash, Mr. Kirby said.
The Dalton dealer has been working with Mr. Farinash to purchase much of Mr. Prebul's inventory, which is being liquidated to pay off Mr. Prebul's creditors. Mr. Kirby bought 99 used cars from Mr. Prebul's Dalton location for $1 million in April, and on Wednesday closed on 21 more from Prebul Volvo's and Prebul Infiniti's Brainerd Road lots in Chattanooga for $250,000.
Mr. Kirby says he sees potential in a new Chrysler dealership in Chattanooga - as long as the company comes through its reorganization.
"If Chrysler succeeds, the Chattanooga (store) would succeed under a good operator," Mr. Kirby said.
Mr. Gregory said he's sure the corporation will remain solvent, and says it won't want to pull out of the Chattanooga market.
"There is going to be Chrysler, Dodge, Jeep and Fiat representation in Chattanooga. I am certain of that," he said.
He said since he has already submitted his name as a potential buyer through the bankruptcy deal, he should be first in line for the rights.
"We have contracted to acquire the facilities or property, but I can't tell you where or when," Mr. Gregory said. "We've met all the criteria, so it's all up to Chrysler."
Chrysler spokeswoman Kathy Graham said the company welcomes his overtures, because it intends to maintain a presence in the area.
"Chattanooga's an important market for Chrysler, and we definitely want to have representation there," Ms. Graham said.