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Clunking for an HFR

As I blogged a few days ago, I’m done with B3 reporting shifts. It’s very relieving to not have to constantly be on the lookout for news stories. However, I began working on my HFR yesterday, and it was a mixed experience. The “Cash for Clunkers” program seems to have both strong proponents and opponents in Mid-Missouri. I stopped at 8 dealerships yesterday to try and talk to them about the program. The program has been delayed a few weeks until the official rulemaking process can be completed by the federal government – to me, that is the story because, as I understand it, people seem willing to trade in their inefficient cars for cars getting better gas mileage, especially with a $4,500 credit essentially subsidizing the use of gas-sipping cars. So my mission was to find out what dealers thought of the delay, and whether customers have been coming in hoping to take advantage of the program.

My first stop was Albert Honda. I’ve met Eric Cronacher, the sales manager, before for a B2 story. The receptionist told me he’d be the man to talk to, and that Wednesday was his off day. Not a problem for me – I’ve dealt with him before and I know he’s pretty accessible. When I called back today, he was “out to lunch” and the receptionist said she’d have him call me back. I’ll keep trying – can’t hurt to have multiple sources because it adds variety and depth to this story.

I went down Providence Rd. to Perry Nissan. The salesman I met in the showroom said the sales manager is the guy to talk to, as is usually the case in most car dealerships. He gave me his card and I called today, he seemed helpful and willing to go on-camera when I get back to Columbia on July 17.

I headed over to the Saturn dealership, where the sales manager told me she didn’t want to go on-camera about it. Meanwhile she had no idea whether Mid-Mo has had any advertising about it. Next door, Dodge City/Hyundai told me a similar thing. They said their president is the only person who can talk on-camera, so I left.
I cruised over to Bob McCosh (formerly known as Perry) Chevrolet, where upon approaching the doorway, Brian Bailey, Angie’s husband, opened the door. I did not know who he was, but upon explaining why I was there, he said, “Oh, Angie Bailey, she’s my wife. I’m Brian Bailey.” So he told me to leave my business card at the receptionist’s desk and he “would take care of me”. Not sure what that means, but I asked Angie about it later at the station and she said she’d “remind” him to get back in touch with me.
Here I took a little detour and stopped at a little shop on the Business Loop that piqued my attention. I can’t remember the name of it, but this little machine shop that looks like it’s 50 years old was open for business. I stopped inside and told the lady inside what I was doing, and asked how business was going. She said the shop is run by her husband and that they’ve been incredibly busy – she said she had not seen any slowdown in business at all. I met the man, Elson, and he said he’d be up for a story on their little shop. As I suspected, the shop has been there for nearly 40 years and apparently “everybody knows Elson”. I’d love to do a story on their shop and how it’s staying strong even in a recession, and as Elson gets older and he admits he doesn’t work as many hours as he used to.

A thought also hit me while driving down the Business Loop to stop into another machine shop to try and find a junkyard in Mid-Missouri, since, according to the plans so far, when “clunkers” are traded in, they essentially have to be destroyed/scrapped by a junkyard. A welding material shop told me of 2 junkyards in Mid-Mo, which is definitely enough to work with. Later, I Googled a few more and got some numbers to call. I really like this element of the story because it goes a little further beyond the car dealership hype/spin. I’d like to possibly do this in 2 or 3 parts – with the “we’ve been waiting for these regulations, and they’re hurting us” schpiel before the rules come down on July 23, the junkyard bit as the 2nd piece, and the 3rd when the actual rules are implemented.

I continued west on the Business Loop and stopped at University Chrysler/Subaru. I received perhaps the rudest reception I’ve ever gotten as a reporter with KOMU upon going into their showroom. I go in, and introduce myself to the geezers behind the counter and explain what I’m doing there. I was interrupted by the head honcho in a very harsh/rude tone,“I’m not gonna comment on that, we don’t know anything more than what you do, and when you hear something you let me know” but I continued, explaining how I thought the story was just that – dealerships are left with little information on something that could be helpful to customers. So, this gentleman, whose name I did not get, proceeds to say, “Hold on a sec son, let me find you something here.” He typed in a few words on his keyboard, clicked a few buttons, and I heard their printer hum and spit out a piece of paper. He picked it up, and as he did, I noticed the other men in the room began to smirk menacingly as if they appreciated his style of embarrassing me. He handed me a sheet of paper with a “Thank you for your comment” form letter from the White House. He said something to the effect of, “I don’t mean to be facetious, but you’re better off asking this guy than me.” For some reason, I found this very irritating and somewhat offensive, as his salesmen began to chuckle behind him, but I tried to remain professional – something evidently this man could not do (In BM’s personal opinion, one of the reasons why Chrysler/Dodge is in dire straits – bad dealerships, like this one, and numerous my family has dealt with in New Jersey). I asked him if he would be willing to mention his comment/advice letter to the White House on-camera, and he declined, giving a mini-rant on “the media”, and instead referring me to the Missouri Auto Dealers Association. So I left, annoyed, with nothing from there.

My next stop was Machens Toyota. Thankfully, the sales manager there, Dan Kellar, was willing to talk on-camera about the process so far, and he gave me some really interesting bites. In stark contrast to the gentlemen at University Chrysler/Subaru, he was very professional and approachable, and actually seemed to understand that THE MEDIA IS YOUR FRIEND WHEN YOU ARE ACCOMMODATING AND HONEST! I shot some video around the dealership of fuel-sipping cars, and headed down the street to Machens Ford/Lincoln/Mercury.

While not as approachable as Dan Kellar, (and asking “Have you ever seen the movie ‘Stalin’?”) the man in charge at Machens F/L/M offered to give me several internal documents and emails showing the process and approach Ford Motor Company and Toyota have been taking with regard to the Cash for Clunkers. I felt this was an outstanding find that, at the very least, would give me a good Web Extra for this story. The president of Machens, Gary Drewing, (apparently the only guy who can go on-camera there) told me to call him in the morning. While I didn’t call him this morning, I left a message with him this afternoon. Hopefully he gets back to me. If not, I know I have time to try and arrange an interview.

After these stops, I headed over to Creasy Springs Rd., where apparently there is a junkyard, according to one of the guys in the welding shop. I drove about 3-4 miles on it and didn’t find it, so I turned around and headed back to KOMU. I’m pretty happy with what I have so far, and if I can get a few more interviews at some dealerships and visit a junkyard, I’ll be good to go. I think the only thing missing is finding someone who wants to buy a car now and is left waiting until the official process comes down from the gov’t.

As is probably apparent from my approach to this story, I really enjoy reporting on the auto industry. Yes, it might be a pain in the rear to deal with the BS at dealerships, but I’m a car geek. I enjoy going into the showrooms and checking out the cars, and comparing/contrasting them.

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