Company acquires 3 GM dealerships Milestone: For the first time, General Motors has allowed a company to have more than one store selling the same brand of car in a marketing area.

May 23, 1998|By Ted Shelsby | Ted Shelsby,SUN STAFF

Automotive history was made here this week when the principals of a holding company signed an agreement with General Motors Corp. to acquire three Pontiac dealerships in the Baltimore area. "When we signed the papers on Monday, it was the first time, other than with Saturn, that GM has allowed a dealer to have more than one store selling the same brand in a marketing area," Tony March, co-president of March/Hodge Holding Co., said yesterday.

The holding company acquired the former Admiral Pontiac and a GMC truck dealership in Glen Burnie, the former O'Donnell Pontiac in Ellicott City and the former Columbia Pontiac Buick GMC.

The four outlets had previously been acquired by GM, which had already combined the Glen Burnie dealerships.

The names of all three dealerships will be changed to Galaxy in coming weeks, and all three will carry the GMC line of light trucks. The Columbia and Ellicott City stores will feature Pontiac, Buick and GMC products.

"This is history," said March, who already owns Buick, GMC and Saturn franchises in Hartford, Conn.

James Farmer, a spokesman for GM's North American vehicle sales, agreed. "This is a brand new program," he said, noting that a similar agreement was completed simultaneously with another dealer in Houston.

The other half of March/Hodge is Ernest Hodge, who owns Cadillac, Oldsmobile, Volkswagen and Isuzu stores in Atlanta and Murfreesboro, Tenn.

By putting all 13 stores under the same corporate umbrella, the holding company becomes the second largest African-American dealership in the country, with revenue of about $300 million.

Mel Farr, the former National Football League running back, is No. 1. Farr has dealerships across the country, including the former Archway Ford in Baltimore.

Hodge said the new company's goal is to operate 30 auto dealerships, primarily along the East Coast, within three years.

"But we will not be expanding in the Baltimore market," said March. "We have too many other offers from outside the state."

Farmer said he did not know of any plan by GM to purchase more auto stores in the Baltimore market.

Technically, the three Baltimore area dealerships are still owned by GM's Motors Holding division, a dealership finance arm of the automaker. March/Hodge is in the process of purchasing the outlets. March declined to say how much the company was paying.

Hodge, 48, and March, 47, have been friends and golfing buddies since they met at the GM Dealer Academy, a year-long indoctrination into the dealership business, in 1984.

March said the partnership combines their individual strengths. "Ernie's strength: He really knows how to sell cars," March said. "He's really good."

"I have the highest return on sales of any Saturn dealership in the country," he said of an ability to control costs, advertise effectively and stimulate the outlet's auto, parts and service business.

In 1996, March was named by Time magazine as one of the nation's top 10 dealers.

The holding company will be based in Hartford, where March has his office. Hodge is based in Atlanta.

The two executives, who were still making adjustments on a Galaxy logo yesterday, said the day-to-day operations of the Baltimore dealerships will eventually be taken over by other graduates of the GM Dealer Academy who will have an equity interest in the stores.

Pub Date: 5/23/98

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