Chrysler closures may mean new business for Lithia Motors

The bad news for many of the nation's Chrysler dealers may turn out to be good for Medford-based Lithia Motors.

Chrysler LLC said today that it wants 789 stores selling its vehicle brands closed by June 9 because they sell too few cars and trucks or compete with other Chrysler dealers.

Lithia's Medford Chrysler dealership will not be affected, but the company could pick up Chrysler-brand franchises to add to existing stores in Eugene; Eureka, Calif.; Billings, Mont.; Missoula, Mont.; and Kennewick, Wash.

"They're closing the other guys," said Sid DeBoer, Lithia chief executive officer. "Either they were selling one of the Chrysler brands, operating duel franchises or they didn't meet other standards. We would be the only store remaining in those areas."

The Jeep dealer Sheppard Motors in Eugene will close, for example, with the Jeep franchise going to Lithia, which sells Chrysler and Dodge brands.

"In almost every market where they are closing surrounding dealers, it will give us less competition and more businesses," DeBoer said.

Chrysler wants to close Lithia dealerships in Omaha, Neb., and Colorado Springs, Colo. Lithia sold the majority of its Colorado holdings in April, and DeBoer told analysts last month that the company expected to see two stores go away in larger markets.

Lithia has been selling and closing its less productive stores as part of a massive cost-cutting campaign for nearly a year, trimming its store count from 111 to 91 in 13 states. It will continue to operate 27 Chrysler brand stores.

A total of six Chrysler stores are due for closure in Oregon: the Eugene store, plus dealerships in Hermiston, Redmond, Bend, Gresham and Portland. The automaker has operated 3,200 dealerships in all.

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