CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- When American Suzuki Motor Corp. announced last fall that it would stop selling automobiles in the U.S., Charleston Suzuki General Sales Manager Steve Huffman said he was shocked, saddened and sleepless for weeks.
"I've been in the car business since 1989 and that was the most challenging and frustrating time," Huffman said Thursday. "I worried about our business and our people. It was devastating."
American Suzuki Motor filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection at the beginning of November. The company said it exited the car business because of slow sales, unfavorable foreign exchange rates, tougher U.S. fuel economy standards, and high costs associated with U.S. regulatory requirements.
Nearly four months later, Huffman said he and the employees who still work at the dealership have "basically started over."
The dealership bought the Mitsubishi franchise from Lester Raines Honda Mazda and changed its name to Charleston Mitsubishi.
It has remained a pre-owned automobile dealer and provides parts and service to customers.
The St. Albans dealership at 7012 MacCorkle Ave. got approval March 6 to start selling the 42 Mitsubishi cars it inherited from Lester Raines.
Huffman said the car dealership opened in 2009 as a stand-alone new car store and they wanted to keep it that way.
Stand-alone dealerships sell just one brand.
Raines said he, too, wanted one franchise at his Mazda and Mitsubishi dealership in South Charleston so he decided to sell the Mitsubishi brand.
"Now that I have just Mazda in that facility, the incentives offered to me are higher, therefore I can pass it on to my customers," Raines said Thursday. "The franchise gives you more incentives because the whole building is based on just them."
Despite being offered more money for the Mitsubishi franchise by other interested buyers, Raines said he gave Huffman his word.
"He had the need because he lost what he had and I felt like for him to carry on, he needed a franchise," Raines said.
Huffman said Charleston Mitsubishi "owes everything we have" to Raines.
"Lester Raines threw us a lifeline and saved us," Huffman said. "He has no idea how much he helped us because it was getting very tough."