- By Allison Wichie Staff Writer
A Champaign County Ford dealership has plans for an $800,000 expansion into Clark County, the first time the automaker will have a presence in Springfield in almost a decade.
White’s Ford, which currently is based near Urbana, will build an auto service center and used-car lot at 2123 W. First St. near U.S. 68.
“We hope it will be a step to help serve the customers better down in Springfield and the Clark County area,” said Jim Bob White, owner of White’s Ford.
The Springfield Ford dealership on Urbana Road closed in 2008.
The expanded business will hire five new sales and service technicians, White said, which will bring the entire dealerships employee numbers up to 45. Customers will also be able to learn about new cars at the Springfield location.
Construction on the project has already begun, he said, and is expected to be finished by May.
The investment, which will include equipment in the service center and cars on the lot, will go well beyond the $800,000 building cost, White said.
The decision to expand was easy to make, White said, after the Ford Motor Co. reached out to the Urbana dealership with the opportunity to open the service center in Springfield almost two years ago.
The dealership looked at locations on Bechtle Avenue, he said, but land wasn’t available so the company bought off of West First Street next to the Jeff Wyler dealerships.
“We’ll both be trying to drive the traffic there,” he said of the competition.
The Jeff Wyler Automotive group has invested more than $12 million in new buildings and inventory in that area in the past several years.
“Business breeds business,” Clark County Commissioner John Detrick said.
New business is good for driving others to look at Clark County as a place to invest and grow, Detrick said.
The Ford service center and having a dealership name back in Clark County is also good for current owners, the commissioner said.
“A community our size has a niche,” Detrick said.
The former Springfield Ford dealership was at 5600 Urbana Road and closed in December 2008 at the beginning of an economic recession and a time when the auto industry was in trouble.
The former dealership owner sold the rights back to Ford in May 2008 and ultimately closed when leaders at the company said it wanted to have a smaller dealership presence.
A new-car, Ford dealership in Springfield isn’t out of the question in the future, White said.
“Never say never, but we’re not looking at that yet,” he said.
Since the Great Recession, car sales and dealerships have rebounded and could break record sales numbers this year, topping the 17.47 million new cars sold in 2015, according to the latest national sales numbers.
“It’s been good,” White said of the number of local car sales this year.
November sales reports credited Black Friday deals and post-election confidence for bringing recent U.S. auto sales out of a slump.
Total U.S. sales rose 4 percent for the month to 1.38 million units. That makes it the highest November on record, beating the previous record of 1.32 million set in 2001, according to Kelley Blue Book.
In the coming months, business analysts have said more attention may be paid to the impact of rising interest rates on auto lending and demand. There’s not likely to be a dramatic effect, however, at least not immediately, experts said.
“If (sales numbers are) as positive as it has been for the past several years, even if it’s a flat year — it’s a good year,” White said.