Auto industry, divorce bring changes to GT Auto

TRAVERSE CITY – Grand Traverse Auto, the region's Ford dealer for 40 years, is on the front lines of difficult changes in the automotive industry.

Ford's deteriorating market share, lackluster products, and financial woes nationally have been well documented. Here in the Grand Traverse region, Ford's premier dealer has seen its market share decline steadily as dealers selling imports continue to grow.

"It all gets down to product," said Grand Traverse Auto General Manager Gary Moss. "There's a certain amount of brand loyalty, but people want fresh and exciting product. Fortunately, we have that now and things have really turned around. Sure, our market share declined, but we outpaced the nation and Detroit during that period."

Moss cited Ford's previous management, who "went on an acquisition binge" with Volvo, Jaguar, and Land Rover, taking precious resources away from domestic car design and production.

Now, he says William Ford Jr. has restored the proper priorities and good things are on the way. Moss pointed to the Ford Fusion as a particular success story, noting it will soon eclipse the Ford 500 as the best-selling Ford car in the Grand Traverse area.

Another development at the dealership involves Moss' recent divorce from part owner Jayne Sleder (daughter of founder Julius Sleder). Moss has served as general manager since 1999, and some expected that a divorce between owner and general manager might result in some management changes.

Not the case, insist both Moss and Sleder.

"Grand Traverse Auto has been family owned since 1964, and that continues, and nothing changes with my role either," said Moss.

When asked if she has decided to keep her ex-husband as general manager, Sleder said, "Yes, absolutely. Both Mary Jo (Jayne's sister and the other co-owner) and I have stepped up our roles in the dealership, and we both have kids who will someday take an interest so we can keep it in the family."

The difficult times also prompted Moss to change advertising direction. For four years, the dealer utilized Cadillac-based Taylor Marketing for brand-focused television commercials. Now, Moss has taken all advertising in-house, and infused a more price-focused message.

"We did make a conscious effort to sharpen the retail message in our advertising. Our brand awareness is well established in community. Now we can maintain that as well as sharpen our retail message. We just have to make our dollars work harder."

Moss added that the overall advertising budget has been increased.

Local Ford enthusiasts will be pleased to hear that Grand Traverse Auto has also signed an exclusive agreement with acclaimed high performance Mustang manufacturer Saleen, Inc. to sell Saleen-modified Mustangs here in the area.

With sky-high horsepower and prices to match, Saleen Mustangs are a hot commodity among collectors and car aficionados. Grand Traverse Auto currently has five Saleen Mustangs in-stock. BN