Longtime Brownsville auto dealership adds truck franchise - Brownsville Herald: Business

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Longtime Brownsville auto dealership adds truck franchise

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Posted: Thursday, October 18, 2012 9:30 pm | Updated: 10:52 am, Fri Oct 19, 2012.

Don Johnson is right where he wants to be — or at least he will be when the expansion of his Central Boulevard dealership complex is finished.

A couple of months ago Johnson added Dodge Ram to his Chrysler Jeep franchise and he needs more room. Johnson broke ground in August on the 11,000-square foot expansion, which will feature a new, much larger showroom and parts department, and a new entrance off Central Boulevard for better access.

With Dodge Ram now onboard, he said, he’s pretty much got the car and truck market covered.

“We can now participate in every market, from compact cars to heavy duty trucks and everything in between,” Johnson said.

He’s been at 2101 Central Blvd. since 1974, when he took over Charlie Ferguson’s 300-foot by 150-foot Volkswagen dealership. Eventually acquiring surrounding property, Johnson became a Porsche Audi dealer in the days when Porsche was selling 924s, 928s and 944s, all of which were actually built by Audi.

“They added 100 dealers in the U.S. because they were selling all these cars, then Porsche decided to stop selling all those cars and they had to get rid of 100 dealers,” he said. “That’s why we lost Porsche.”

Audi, meanwhile, saw sales plummet in the 1980s due to supposed “unintended acceleration” issues with its Audi 5000 model, though the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration eventually concluded that the majority of cases were caused by drivers.

But Johnson moved on, bringing in Chrysler Plymouth and selling off his VW franchise as well as a Suzuki franchise he’d acquired. In 1991 he bought Hyundai from Mike Hale Motor Company, and in 1999 bought Jeep from Cardenas Motors. That proved to be a smart move, considering Jeep’s enduring popularity.

“Jeep has been keeping us alive here,” Johnson said. “We’ve got done a real good job for Jeep and it’s done a real good job for us.”

In May he sold Hyundai to Tipton Motors.

“Chrysler agreed to give me Dodge and Ram if I got rid of Hyundai,” Johnson said. “I sold it to Tipton so I could get Dodge and Ram. That’s why I’m remodeling this whole place.”

Now that he’s tapping into the lucrative truck market in truck-crazy Texas and with a full range of passenger cars besides, Johnson anticipates a robust 2013 in terms of sales.

“In Texas trucks are king, buddy,” he said. “I think that Texas sells 47 percent of all the trucks in the U.S. That’s quite a bit. That’s why we wanted the Ram. We wanted trucks and of course a complete line of cars.”

The Dodge Dart, first introduced in 1960 and discontinued in 1976, is back in 2013 and “prettier than they ever were,” Johnson said. His biggest sellers to date have been the Chrysler 200 and 300, the Chrysler Town & Country, and the Jeep Grand Cherokee and Wrangler.

Johnson’s dealership employees 56 people and will probably add five or 10 more once the expansion. He’s currently in the market for master technicians. His son, D.J. Johnson, the general manager. The dealership is open for business, though things are a bit chaotic with all the construction activity.

With the ink dry on the new contract with Chrysler and the state’s blessing, new Dodges and Rams have already arrived on the lot. The expansion should be done by January, and it can’t come fast enough for Johnson.

“Everything is done,” he said. “All I’ve got to do is finish construction so I can start operating.”

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