Clovis News

Freedom Ford Truck Center closing

Freedom Ford Truck Center in Fresno will shut down at the end of the month.

A combination of declining truck sales and Ford's efforts to consolidate dealerships led to the decision to close, dealership vice president and part owner Mark Rapin said Thursday.

"We've had a tough time for the last three years," he said.

The dealership started in 1971, and its current owners took over the Jensen Avenue and Highway 99 location in 1992.

It sells only trucks. The bulk of its customers are in the construction field, including electricians, contractors and others who bought large, specialized trucks.

Since the housing bust, those companies have cut back on buying new trucks, Rapin said.

"They're parking their vehicles," he said. "They're repairing and not replacing."

The news comes as auto manufacturers and dealers are reporting sales increases. Ford reported a 14% increase in total sales in February.

But Freedom Ford doesn't sell cars to balance cutbacks made by its commercial customers.

Rapin said Ford, in an effort to consolidate an overabundance of dealerships, offered the owners an opportunity to get out of the dealership business. He did not share details.

Ford Motor Co. did not return calls seeking comment. The company has been trying to consolidate dealerships, said Don Groppetti, owner of the Groppetti Automotive group and Visalia Ford.

"It's never been a secret ... that they had consolidation plans," he said.

General Motors and Chrysler filed for bankruptcy in 2009 and revoked thousands of franchise agreements with dealerships. They shed dealerships that were performing poorly and competing with one another in the same market.

Ford's process is less structured, and the company is not targeting a certain number of dealerships, Groppetti said.

Freedom Ford will not a hold a liquidation sale, but will sell its trucks to other dealerships. The parts and service departments are still open for customers.

The closure will put about 30 employees out of work.

Rapin will also resign from his position as the president of the Fresno-Clovis New Car Dealers Association.

News of the closure saddened Donnie Lacefield, owner of Bohner Lacefield Marine Inc. in Madera. Lacefield's family and his business bought vehicles from Freedom Ford for 15 years. The business hauled boats and customers to nearby lakes for boat test drives in crew-cab trucks.

Lacefield said he wished more customers would buy their vehicles from locally owned dealerships, instead of going to the Bay Area or southern California.

"It's tough to see a local landmark go away," Lacefield said of Freedom Ford. "It won't be the same going down 99 and not seeing the sign up on the freeway."