Kansas car dealer purchases local dealership

Neither a recession nor trouble for General Motors could stop a big regional car dealer from taking a chance on a shuttered northwest Chevrolet dealership.

On Wednesday, as Republican senators including Nevada’s John Ensign discussed a plan to forestall a bailout for GM and other U.S. carmakers, a Kansas auto dealer who began working at his father’s small-town service station at age 7 reopened Vista Chevrolet in Centennial Hills.

Ed Bozarth has renamed the dealership Ed Bozarth Nevada #1 Chevrolet. The store, which used to belong to Bill Heard Enterprises, is now part of a nine-dealership, three-state operation that should hit $400 million in sales once the latest addition reaches full strength.

Bozarth said he bought the Vista dealership because he’s bullish on Las Vegas’ long-term prospects. “I just think in a year and a half or two years, Las Vegas will be back stronger than ever,” Bozarth said. “We’re just really high on the potential of the Summerlin area and Las Vegas.”

At least one local competitor welcomed the new entry in the city’s dealership community.

Tyler Corder, chief financial officer of Findlay Automotive Group, said executives at his company spoke with Bozarth and offered him assistance in relaunching the dealership.

“We think it’s positive. It’s good for the economy because it creates jobs,” Corder said. “You read so much negative news about the car business right now, and here’s a guy who’s confident and optimistic about opening up a Chevrolet dealership. It’s refreshing.”

Corder, whose company also has a Chevrolet dealership, said having a “strong Chevrolet dealer” in northwest Las Vegas “helps us all.”

Bozarth estimates Ed Bozarth Nevada #1 Chevrolet will employ 80 locals by the end of December. He plans a stable of 300 to 400 new cars and 500 or so used cars.

For the 65-year-old Bozarth, the Las Vegas dealership provides an unexpected turn in his career.

“Two months ago,” he said, “if someone had said we’d own a dealership in Las Vegas, I’d have said, ‘What are you talking about?’”

Bozarth came across Vista when he visited Las Vegas a few weeks ago for a J.D. Power & Associates convention. He decided to drive his son, Kent, who’s also in the car business, and two partners past the property so they could “see what a closed-up car agency looks like.” They ended up looking around and liking what they saw.

But Bozarth didn’t jump into action until a few weeks later, when a business partner told him Las Vegas could add more than 1 million new residents in coming years. After also considering adding dealerships in Georgia and Alabama to his existing dealerships in Kansas and Colorado, Bozarth went with Vista.

On top of population growth, dropping home prices in Southern Nevada will leave local consumers with more discretionary income to spend on cars, Bozarth said.

Nor must Bozarth wrestle in the near term with the $4.25-a-gallon gasoline that helped fell Bill Heard, with its heavy reliance on trucks and sport-utility vehicles. With gasoline below $2 a gallon, more consumers are hopping back into bigger cars, Bozarth said.

Asked if Ensign’s and other senators’ efforts to prevent the Big Three bailout would be a problem for his dealership, Bozarth said: “It will be a problem having a job in America if (Ensign) continues to believe the way he believes.”

“I know he’s a great senator, but for some reason, he has these thoughts in his mind,” Bozarth added. “If General Motors declares Chapter 11, it’s going to just create a fire storm.”

Georgia-based Bill Heard Enterprises closed its 13 dealerships nationwide in September, citing “the declining automobile market, the high price of gasoline and its effects on sales of the dealership’s core products, such as heavy trucks and SUVs, and difficult financing conditions.” It owned two local dealerships: Vista and Bill Heard Chevrolet on Decatur Boulevard. Bill Heard officials wouldn’t say how many Las Vegans lost their jobs in the closure, but they said the business had 3,200 employees nationally.

Bozarth bought the dealership’s furniture, equipment and fixtures for $2.6 million, and will lease the building.

Financing for the deal included $600,000 from Bozarth’s son, Kent, and partner Mark Miller, who made the Buffalo Bills’ roster in 1987 as a backup quarterback. The rest came from a loan from CoreFirst bank in Topeka.

Bozarth said he plans to move to Las Vegas, and he said locals looking to comment on his dealership’s services will find numbers for both his cell phone and home phone in his advertisements.

“I grew up in the back of a service station, and my father required that everything be perfect at that service station,” Bozarth said. “I want everything perfect in this dealership.”

 

Contact reporter Jennifer Robison at jrobison@reviewjournal.com or 702-380-4512.

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