What started out in the mid-1990s as a single Land Rover dealership on the edge of Chattanooga's city limits on Thursday began looking more like an auto mall.
Infiniti of Chattanooga kicked off construction of a $5 million dealership at its Lee Highway site. When finished in April 2014, the freestanding 18,000-square-foot building will join Furrow Automotive Group's Land Rover, Porsche and Jaguar franchises.
Sam Farrow, the group's chairman, said Chattanooga is one of the most attractive markets in the state, citing business growth among other factors.
"We can see that clearly here," he said. "Market share is strong. That's why we're here today."
John Tolsma, a group co-owner, said Infiniti especially fits Chattanooga.
"It's a young, vibrant, family-oriented market. Infiniti is focused on that," he said.
The group acquired the dealership in April from Chattanooga businessman Tim Kelly. Sam Liang, an Infiniti dealer operations manager, said Furrow Automotive Group is making a big commitment to the brand, which is the luxury nameplate for Japanese automaker Nissan.
He said the timing of construction fits with the launch of the Q50, Infiniti's entry-level sports sedan.
George Becknell, the Infiniti dealership's general manager, said the brand is expected to outsell the other vehicle lines offered by Furrow in Chattanooga.
He predicted the dealership, which is currently operating out of the Land Rover showroom, is projected to sell 500 new vehicles a year and up to 600 used ones annually at the 3.5-acre site.
The new structure will feature a showroom and 13 service bays, Becknell said.
"It will have express service to get people in and out quickly," he said.
Lee Ann Furrow Tolsma, president of the automotive group based out of Knoxville where it owns other dealerships, said sales have been strong the last few years coming out of the Great Recession.
"The market is growing," she told more than 100 people who turned out for a groundbreaking ceremony. "We're thrilled to be in this market."
The group president also cited the location near Interstate 75 and Bonny Oaks Drive and how it has grown with the landing of the Volkswagen auto assembly plant nearby at Enterprise South industrial park.
Nearby off Lee Highway, MHC Kenworth has started building a dealership that will sell new and used heavy and medium-duty trucks.
That dealership will more than double its footprint to 60,000 square feet as well as bolster its workforce by nearly 30 employees as it shifts from a location near downtown Chattanooga.
Contact Mike Pare at mpare@times freepress.com or 423-757-6318.