Chrysler dealers in western and central Maine are hopeful that Thursday’s announcement of bankruptcy will reassure owners and buyers of Chrysler products that their investments are safe.

After months of speculation about the future of the company, the promise of governmental guarantees should serve to boost confidence in the American auto brand, said John Isaacson, president of Lee Chrysler Dodge and Jeep in Auburn and CEO of Lee Auto Malls.

“This may alleviate any doubt or fear people might have that Chrysler will be around,” he said.

“I do not expect it to have a negative effect,” said Wally Backus, owner of Franklin Chrysler in Farmington.

In fact, Backus said he thought the organizational restructuring while merging with Italian automaker Fiat is just what Chrysler needs to succeed.

“It will turn out to be a much stronger competitor in the market as we go forward,” Backus said. “I think it’s a very positive future.”

None of the dealers could say with certainty what effect the announcement might have on sales over the next couple of months as the company undertakes the bankruptcy process.

“We obviously don’t know the answer to that,” Isaacson said. News of the bankruptcy shouldn’t come as a surprise to anybody, he said.

Recent sales haven’t appeared to suffer due to the carmaker’s much publicized ongoing financial troubles.

Isaacson said sales of Chrysler products had kept pace with other brands since the economic crisis struck. Backus said sales for the first quarter of 2009 were actually up 50 percent from the same quarter a year ago. April sales appear to be close to those of April 2008, he said.

“I think people can go just so long before they either need to have their cars repaired or replaced,” he said.

Doug Van Durme, sales manager at Bessey Motor Sales in South Paris, who also said he’s seen no drop in Chrysler sales, said he plans to keep running his business as usual.

The Auburn dealership, which has been there since 1936, isn’t planning any changes, Isaacson said.

Although Chrysler has expressed interest in reducing its number of dealerships nationally, Isaacson said he believed they likely would be targeting those in major metropolitan areas.

Many of the small dealerships in Maine have already consolidated, said Backus, who took over the family business from his father in 1972.

He agreed there are too many dealerships, but he didn’t plan to close his doors, he said. His franchise is protected under state law, he said.


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