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WEB EXTRA: Herb Chambers, On The State Of The Industry

WBUR’s Bob Oakes asked auto dealer Herb Chambers if the reason many of his expansion projects are in high-end cars is because he thinks the growth is in luxury brands.

HERB CHAMBERS: I don’t think that’s totally where the growth is, but one of the things that’s happening with companies like Lexus and BMW is that they are growing their product lines so that they’re getting down in to less expensive cars. So they’re bringing more cars, more models into the market and it becomes more of a challenge for the Cadillacs and Buicks and high end Chrysler products.

What’s your view of the immediate and distant future of the other end of the market? Sales of cars in the $18,000 to $23,000 range have pretty much fallen off a cliff for many dealers.

There’s always going to be a market, but I don’t think that segment is down necessarily more than the luxury segment is. The industry is down as a whole.

Why do you think think American cars have earned a bad reputation among consumers?

It takes a long time to make up for poor quality, and there’s no doubt that the quality that the American manufacturers were putting out was not what it should have been.

Companies like Honda and Toyota got a great jump on them. But over the last, I’m gonna say, five or six years, they have made major strides. What’s happened, I believe that people just don’t have them on the shopping list.

And for a couple of reasons. One is the quality issue. Two was styling. Three was resale value – reliability ties into that. And building maybe the wrong cars. Building a lot of trucks and SUVs, and then when we hit four bucks a gallon, all of the sudden nobody wanted those things. So that drives the wholesale value down, which is the trade-in value.

So I think that’s gone away now, the value has come back up on those vehicles. I would love to be able to buy the vehicles that we sold in the last quarter back again.

This program aired on April 13, 2009. The audio for this program is not available.

Bob Oakes Twitter Host, Morning Edition
Bob Oakes has been WBUR's Morning Edition anchor since 1992.

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