CarExpress closes Highway 153 dealership in Chattanooga

CarExpress closes Highway 153 dealership in Chattanooga

October 26th, 2018 by Mike Pare in Business Around the Region
Staff file photo / Emerson Russell

Staff file photo / Emerson Russell

Photo by John Rawlston /Times Free Press.

CarExpress, a used car dealership in Chattanooga off Highway 153 that offered a CarMax-type one-price, no-haggle model, has closed.

The dealership, which opened in 2016 near Shallowford Road, shut its retail space last week, though its service area is still operating, said Chattanooga businessman and owner Emerson Russell on Friday.

Russell said he is negotiating a potential sale or lease of the dealership, but he plans to keep ownership of the property.

"We haven't finalized it yet," he said.

He and longtime Chattanooga auto dealer Joe Prebul, along with an Atlanta businessman, opened CarExpress in mid-2016 with an investment estimated then at up to $6 million.

The plan was to turn the venture into one of the top five dealerships in the city, selling between 100 and 150 cars and trucks a month with a goal of 200 vehicles, said Prebul at the time.

Annual revenue was targeted at about $45 million to $50 million a year, and the dealership was to employ about 65 people, they said.

Russell said Friday that some employees have been laid off at the used-car store, which doesn't have vehicles left on the lot.

"We liked that location," said Russell. He said Prebul was bought out of the business about a year and a half ago.

The 42,000-square-foot location formerly held the John Hicks auto dealerships decades ago, though Miller-Motte College offered classes there in recent years before shifting to Lee Highway.

Russell, a former Chattanooga area manager of the year, built a locally based business employing more than 5,000 people at one time who worked to provide security, maintenance, janitorial and landscaping services to facilities in 35 states.

Russell and Prebul said they had known each other for many years and talked about getting into business.

Prebul had built a car empire in Chattanooga, but that fell apart and he went to prison early this decade after pleading guilty to one misdemeanor count of bank larceny. Prebul later went to work at Lexus of Chattanooga upon his release and then joined Russell in the dealership.

Contact Mike Pare at mpare@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6318. Follow him on Twitter @MikePareTFP.