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Article published July 2, 2009

Jeep Wranglers in demand, but shutdown limits supply

Jerry Snodgrass probably could sell a dozen Jeep Wranglers today - that is, if he had any to sell.

But the general manager of Baumann Chrysler Jeep Dodge in Fremont is in the same predicament as many other Jeep dealers nationwide. That is, plenty of demand for the Toledo-built Wranglers but few, if any, to sell following the seven-week shutdown of vehicle production by Chrysler Group LLC.

"I am completely out of Wranglers. I've got a salesman looking up at me right now asking me, 'When are we going to get more Wranglers?'•" Mr. Snodgrass said yesterday.

The company announced yesterday, as other automakers revealed their June vehicle sales figures, that last month it sold 4,810 Wranglers, down 28 percent from the same month last year.

But sales may have slumped because dealers ran out of Wranglers. Chrysler had just a 38-day supply of Wranglers as of June 1, compared with a typical industry average of 60 days or more.

Sales of the Toledo-built Jeep Liberty, by contrast, were 3,815 units last month, off 24 percent from a year ago but with a more plentiful 65-day inventory supply. For the first half of the year, Wrangler sales are up 5 percent from a year ago, while Liberty sales are down 42 percent.

Sales of the Dodge Nitro, the third vehicle made at the Toledo Jeep Assembly complex, totaled 1,471 units in June, down 43 percent from the same month last year and down 59 percent for the year from last year. The company has a 63-day supply of Nitros.

Overall in June, Chrysler sales were off 42 percent. For the first half of the year, its vehicle sales are down 46 percent from last year.

The lack of Wranglers overall caused sales to dip last month at Yark Automotive Group in Sylvania Township, said Dave Doster, the dealer's Jeep sales manager.

He tried to supplement his inventory of Wranglers by snaring unsold vehicles from the 789 Chrysler dealers the firm canceled a month ago. But with production of the sport-utility vehicles shut down for nearly two months, he said that means dealers "have a lot more blacktop showing than they normally do."

Wrangler production resumed Monday, and production of the Liberty and the Nitro is expected to resume by July 27.

Mr. Snodgrass, the Fremont dealer, said he is glad the Toledo plant is in operation again, but it means salesmen all over have had to ask buyers to be patient until new vehicles arrive, or choose from the stock of vehicles on the lots.

At Duke Jeep Sales in North Baltimore, for example, the dealer has just 15 total vehicles and no Jeeps, a salesman said. But Duke is a tiny dealership with limited inventory.

Mr. Snodgrass ran out of Wranglers 30 days ago and said that in his trade area to the east, there are three Jeep dealers "and there might be two Wranglers among the three of us." He's also down to just one Liberty and one Nitro left to sell.

Mr. Doster said Yark has just eight Wranglers and four Wrangler Unlimiteds available.

At Monroe Dodge Chrysler Jeep Superstore in Monroe, owner Ralph Mahalak, Jr., said he has had some customers waiting up to five months for factory-ordered Wranglers.

"We're glad the plant's back up and running, I can tell you that," he said. "The good news is these customers will have their vehicles here in a couple more days."

He has seven Wranglers and 12 Wrangler Unlimited models on his lot.

But even with the disruption in availability, he said he's having his best year for Wrangler sales. "I ordered heavily this winter and it really worked out great for us. That's probably why our new-car sales have been above average."

He said he already has submitted a large order for 2010 Wranglers, which will go into production in about three weeks. --
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