By Rob Ollikainen
Peninsula Daily News
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More than three years after the Michigan automaker went bankrupt and cut ties with Murray Motors of Port Angeles and 789 other dealerships across the country, Chrysler Group LLC has opened a franchise at Wilder Auto, one of the Peninsula's largest dealerships, at 97 Deer Park Road.
Wilder began selling Chrysler and Dodge cars and Ram trucks about two weeks ago.
“It's something that's been lacking here on the Peninsula,” said Dan Wilder Sr., owner of Wilder Auto Center and Wilder Toyota-Scion and past president of the Washington State Auto Dealers Association.
“A lot of people want to buy locally, and those people had to go out of town.”
He added: “We're kind of excited about it.
Wilder said he hopes to sell 100 to 200 Chryslers a year.
The Chrysler line includes Dodge, Ram Truck, Jeep and FIAT brands.
Wilder Auto for years has sold Toyota, Honda, Scion, Jeep, Volkswagen and Nissan cars, trucks and SUVs.
“It will be a good addition to our community and also an addition to our tax base,” Wilder said.
“Right now, if somebody wants to buy a Dodge or whatever, they'd have to go to Bremerton or somewhere else. So what happens is all that sales tax goes to that county, and we lose out.”
The addition of the Chrysler line will enable Wilder to hire about 10 more employees to augment a staff of about 100.
Wilder Auto carries an inventory of more than $8 million in new vehicles and more than $2 million in used vehicles.
Wilder plans to build a new Honda store just east of its existing campus to make room for a larger service department.
“If we don't take good care of our service customers, then we're not going to be in business,” he said.
“So we want to do a great job.”
Chrysler emerged from government-backed bankruptcy in 2009 under the management of Italian automaker Fiat, which was given a 20 percent stake in the U.S. automaker.
Chrysler's corporate office sought out Wilder Auto for the new franchise.
It did not seek out Murray Motors, where Chryslers were sold from 1934 to 2009.
Mark Murray, third-generation owner of Murray Motors, said he had “mixed feelings” about the automaker coming back to the Peninsula.
“I certainly feel a little bit rejected,” he said.
“I grew up a Chrysler fan. I'm not much of a fan any longer.”
Murray received a letter from Chrysler in May 2009 saying his franchise would be gone in less than four weeks.
He was unable to sell his remaining stock and was not compensated for the loss.
“It was a costly deal,” Murray recalled.
Murray said he doesn't blame Wilder for taking the franchise.
“They offered it to him,” he said.
“I would have done the same thing.
“He [Wilder] wasn't the reason why I lost it, so I have no hard feelings there. None at all.”
Murray Motors now sells CARQUEST auto parts and continues to service all makes and models at its shop at 302 E. First St. It also has a small inventory of used cars.
“I'll continue to run my business with the addition of the CARQUEST store,” Murray said. “I'm going to try to grow that business.”
Wilder, too, expressed regret at the way Chrysler left Murray Motors, describing his competition as a “great family organization.”
“We thought it was a travesty what happened to Murray's,” Wilder said.
“He really cares about the customers. It was a very sad deal.”
Murray said he wishes Wilder well with the Chrysler franchise.
“I hope he does a good job and makes a success of it,” Murray said.
Reporter Rob Ollikainen can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5072, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.