This is likely to be a nervous weekend around the Holler households, as the families await a decision that will determine whether the Holler-Classic Automotive Group gets to keep its Chevrolet franchises in Winter Park and Altamonte Springs.
The family's Holler dealerships, Classic Chevrolet and Holler Chevrolet, were two of more than 1,300 GM dealers notified last summer that they would lose their franchises, effective this Oct. 31. To say they were surprised is an understatement. The Holler family has been in the auto business since 1920. Family patriarch Bill Holler was vice president of General Motors and general sales manager of Chevrolet from 1929 until 1945. The family has sold General Motors products in Orlando since 1938.
In an unexpected announcement late Friday, GM said it was offering to reinstate 661 of the 1,160 terminated dealers who had filed for independent arbitration. Official notification comes Monday. Chris Holler, a vice president of the dealer group, said he is "hopeful" they will get at least one of their two franchises back. If they don't, they can still continue the arbitration process, which must be concluded by July.
Meanwhile, the Hollers have been preparing for the day they never thought would come: Life without General Motors.
Roger Holler, also a group vice president, says the two dealerships are down to less than a dozen new Chevrolets, since they haven't been allowed to order new ones. But sensing an opportunity, and regardless of GM's decision, both stores remain open and will continue to be as Driver's Mart, what Holler says could become a nationwide chain of used-vehicle superstores that will service what they sell — as well as service any other vehicles for customers, including longtime Chevrolet customers. The company has also acquired a NAPA parts distributorship, which will feed all the stores.
If they are allowed to keep Chevrolet, and agree to the terms GM requires for a new contract, they could either continue selling new vehicles from the Driver's Mart locations, or, more likely, move Chevrolet somewhere else.
Used cars, though, are the focus right now. "The used-vehicle business is quite a bit larger than new vehicle business is," Holler says. And he noticed that there is really no serious competition for Virginia-based CarMax, the existing top nationwide used-car chain. "The last time I looked," Holler says, "six of the top 10 used-car dealers in Florida were CarMax stores." Holler says it's a concept his company has been exploring for a long time, and these unexpected circumstances made this a good time to jump in, and keep most all its employees working.
Driver's Mart — not to be confused with a nationwide chain of used car stores by that name that was swallowed up by AutoNation in the 1990s — will roll out in Florida, with an eye toward going national. "We'll take it one step at a time," Holler says. "There are a lot of very nice facilities all across the company that are available right now.''
This does not mean that Holler wants out of the new-vehicle business, though. The company still has Audi, Honda, Hyundai, Mazda and Hummer. Well, Hummer for now: Holler says that Hummer sales remain reasonably strong, despite the announcement that the proposed sale of Hummer to a Chinese company fell through, and owner GM would shutter the brand. Recent word that there may be a couple of last-minute bidders, though, gives Holler hope. "It's one of the most iconic brands in the world," he says, "and I have to think someone would want it."
Otherwise, business is pretty good at the other Holler stores, especially Holler Hyundai. Sales for Holler Hyundai are up 54 percent over last year, and Classic Honda and Holler Honda remain busy. How much of that has to do with Toyota's present problems? "I don't know how much to attribute that to Toyota," Holler says. "We really haven't seen much of an increase in Toyota trade-ins. Maybe owners are just waiting to see what happens."
Sentinel Automotive Editor Steven Cole Smith can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or 407-420-5699.