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Thielen Motors' changes reflect leaner GM offerings

The new offerings are pared down and allows the dealership to carry more makes and models of each. (Sarah Smith / Enterprise)

Last Thursday Alan Saar kept his eyes glued to the stock ticker running across the screen of his laptop computer.

General Motors was undergoing the largest initial public offering in U.S. history, more than a year after its old stock became worthless, the company went bankrupt and received a $50 billion government bailout.

Outside of Thielen Motors in Park Rapids, evidence of the new leaner, meaner General Motors was taking place on the Highway 34 lot. New signs being installed on the lot inform the public of the new pared down company.

Saar, the general sales manager, was experiencing it inside, too.

Although mechanics can still service most makes and models and perform warranty work, the dealership doesn't sell Pontiacs, Saturns, Hummers and Oldsmobiles any more.

"With just Chevrolet and Buick we have more of a selection from each of these two brands," Saar said.

National optimism over GM's stunning turnaround came through cost-cutting, bankruptcy and debt elimination. It raised $20 billion through the IPO last Thursday that will go toward paying off its government debt.

But Saar and finance manager G.P. Anderson believe it also freed GM up to concentrate on doing fewer things better, churning out a better product that's engineered all over the world.

"We got in a 2011 Cruze," Anderson said of the model that replaces the Chevy Cobalt.

"We didn't even have it on the lot 24 hours before it was sold."

Both men say there have been "huge changes" in the auto business, all "for the better."

"The way business is done is way better," Saar said.

But lenders are still wary.

The old GMAC financing arm is gone but is slowly being replaced by a new company called GM Financial.

"Wind down" agreements with GM hit many smaller dealerships in Wadena, Little Falls and Pine River, the men said.

Thielen persevered via "levels of service" performance. GM evaluated each dealership's sales, customer satisfaction, facilities, its market saturation and a variety of other factors in deciding which of its 6,500 dealerships to winnow down to 5,000 nationwide.

Some dealerships such as those in Rice and Sebeka can continue to sell the GM lines but will not receive any new products.

In engineering better products, Anderson said the new models save an average of $300 a month in fuel consumption.

"That's the equivalent of a monthly car payment," he said.

GM sold 478 million common shares at $33 each, raising $15.77 billion, as well as $4.35 billion in preferred shares, more than the $4 billion initially envisioned.

The day Saar kept tabs, shares were $35.88 "right out of the chute," he said.

"They're at $35.03 now," he said at noon.

GM's stock closed Thursday at $34.19 a share. It ended Friday at $34.26, up 7 cents.

"It's a crazy business," Anderson said. "But we have a fabulous quality product. We're coming back."

Sarah Smith

Sarah Smith is the outdoors editor. She covers courts, business and breaking news in addition to outdoors events.

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