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Morris GM dealerships escape company's hit list

Heartland Motor Company and Morris Auto Plaza are not among the 1,100 General Motors dealerships the company wants to close as part of its restructuring.

Both of Morris' General Motors dealerships will remain in operation, their owners said Monday.

Heartland Motor Company and Morris Auto Plaza did not receive notification from GM that the dealerships were among those that will not have agreements renewed when current deals expire in October 2010.

GM on Friday sent letters to 1,100 dealerships nationwide stating that agreements with them would not be renewed.

"It's definitely a positive," said Morris Auto Plaza owner Joel Krusemark. "It was a good Friday."

"No news was good news," said Heartland Motor's owner Dan Dripps.

Last week, Valu Ford and Chrysler also received notification that the dealership would remain open. Chrysler stated in bankruptcy filings that it was seeking to cut ties with about 25 percent of its U.S. dealerships.

News reports seem to indicate that GM is headed for bankruptcy.

Chrysler's closure list was made public in bankruptcy court documents. GM has not filed for bankruptcy and has not released its list of dealerships with which it wants to cut ties.

A report in USA Today indicates that GM almost certainly will have to file bankruptcy to have the legal standing to enforce its closure of dealerships.

Heartland Motor Company, which employs 18 people, sells Chevrolet cars and trucks. Morris Auto Plaza sells GMC, Cadillac and Buick.

The dealerships are located just two miles apart, but carry different makes and models, Dripps said.

The dealerships were rated based on their facilities, sales, profits, market share and customer satisfaction.

Geography and performance were important, Dripps said.

"I think they want a web of dealerships across the nation instead of them all being in metro areas," Dripps said. "You had to be selling (the amount) you were selling and more. It was based on who was selling and satisfying customers."

Dripps said Heartland received good wishes from many customers who stopped in at the dealership.

"One said, 'I can't believe they'd do anything (to close) you guys,' " Dripps said.

The Morris area also has proved it can maintain sales.

"The town has a good reputation for sales," Dripps said. "People will travel a long distance to come here for vehicle sales. We attract from a pretty wide area."

Krusemark said Morris Auto Plaza employs 19 people, and that the dealership's performance led him to feel cautiously optimistic that it wouldn't be targeted for closure.

"You always feel confident, but there's always that question," he said, noting that Paul Walser, a Twin Cities dealer, has a dealership marked for closure even though it's performing well.

Morris Auto Plaza also has won awards for having Minnesota's top market share for GMC truck sales the last two years, Krusemark said.

"That was pretty important for us," he said.

Knowing it will remain in the GM fold means Morris Auto Plaza can gear back up, Krusemark said.

"We put a lot of decisions on hold for awhile, waiting to see how things were going," he said. "I think we're finally heading in the right direction. I think GM will get things turned around and start going in the right direction, and the dealerships will go along with them."