Used Cars Are Suddenly Hot
LaFontaine and Carite open west-side stores.
From the March, 2021 issue
n the past year, Ann Arbor lost car dealerships selling two European brands. They've been replaced by dealerships selling some of the hottest vehicles in the market: used cars and trucks. According to a December Automotive News article, Americans buy more than twice as many used vehicles as new ones each year, and the markup is higher, too.
Family Deal Direct, operated by the LaFontaine Automotive Group, took the glass-box showroom on Jackson Rd. that was originally MINI of Ann Arbor and briefly a used-car buying center for the Germain Automotive Group (Marketplace Changes, Sept. 2020.) This is LaFontaine's second used-car-centric store; the first Family Deal Direct opened in Fenton in January.
CARite replaces Suburban Fiat 'Alfa-Romeo on W. Stadium. It's next door to the main post office, and compared to most dealerships, it's postage-stamp size. But CARite CEO Jeff Bartlett says that was part of the appeal.
"We liked the cozy neighborhood," he says. "We liked the idea of being in Ann Arbor. We like to get ourselves into areas where we believe we will be successful in the used-car market."
Founded in 2011 and based in Madison Heights, CARite now operates in eight states, selling late-model used cars with in-house financing "regardless of credit history." This one is managed by Jon Houston, who went to Ypsi High, WCC, and Concordia University. His wife, Amanda, teaches at Bach Elementary, which their son, Grant, attends; daughter Maddie, is at Slauson. He says he was attracted to the company's low-key sales approach. Its "guides" are on a salary, so there's no pressure to earn commissions. The company sets the no-haggle prices.
"We are reinventing what it means to buy a car," Houston says. "No one's going to harass you; there won't be any annoying emails or phone calls or texts. The only pressure is truly at the snack bar"--where, he says, customers are urged to take home a selection of packaged snacks.
Through CARite's dealership development program, he should
be eligible to buy the Ann Arbor franchise in five years. "There are lots of stigmas in this industry, and I feel like I want to take them all down single-'handedly," he says.
They're making a point of offering 'fuel-efficient vehicles in Ann Arbor, including a recent flock of Chevrolet Bolts from California. Houston says he hopes to bring in some used Teslas this summer. But the SUV and truck buyers who dominate the market aren't entirely neglected: in February, he had a 2018 Lexus RX 350 and a 2018 Ford F-150 SuperCrew on hand.
Many of the vehicles CARite sells were previously leased, but Houston says he also has an unusual college-town source of used vehicles: international students heading back to European countries and China.
In-person shopping is currently by appointment only. "It's been a unique experience to open a dealership in the middle of a pandemic," Houston says. But "we're not going anywhere. I hope to be on Stadium years from now."
Family Deal Direct, 3500 Jackson Rd. (833) 774-0163. Mon. & Thurs. 9 a.m.-8 p.m.; Tues., Wed., & Fri. 9 a.m.-6 p.m., Sat. 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Closed Sun. 'familydeal.com
CARite, 2095 W. Stadium Blvd. (734) 210-0422. Hours by appointment: Mon.-Fri., 9 a.m.-7 p.m., Sat. 9 a.m.-3 p.m. Closed Sun. carite.com.
[Originally published in March, 2021.]
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