DETROIT — At 789 Chrysler lots across America sit 44,000 potential bargains: cars and trucks that are stuck between shell-shocked dealers and a troubled company that no longer wants their services.
The dealers have just a few weeks to sell the Chryslers, Dodges and Jeeps or risk losing thousands of dollars on them, giving people who want a car on the cheap a serious chance for a deal.
"You've got some very good negotiating power," said Dave Champion, director of automobile testing for Consumer Reports magazine. Dealers are "really looking to shift this inventory. It's just stacking up all around them."
On Thursday, Chrysler LLC asked a New York bankruptcy court to end its franchise agreements with the dealers, casting them aside so the automaker can move forward as a new company with a leaner network of about 2,400 showrooms.
General Motors Corp. took a similar step on Friday, giving notices to 1,100 dealers that it no longer wants them. On their lots sit 65,000 Chevrolets, Buicks, GMCs, Pontiacs and Cadillacs, but at GM, the dealers' situation isn't as dire.
GM isn't in bankruptcy — at least not yet — so its dealers have more options to fight the move, which the company doesn't plan to implement until October 2010. They also have more time to sell the vehicles. Plus, GM's dealer agreements require the company to buy back cars and trucks that meet certain requirements on age and mileage.
But inside the 789 Chrysler showrooms to be cast aside, fear is starting to set in as dealers try to figure out what to do with expensive inventories that weren't selling well even before the Auburn Hills, Mich., automaker entered bankruptcy protection last month.
"They've told us that the inventory is our problem," said Keith Hollern, one of the owners of a Dodge dealer in Windber, Pa. "Want to buy one? We're having a fire sale."