Economy sinks Maita Ford

Some 41 employees will lose their jobs at foothills fixture
By: Tony Hazarian, Journal Publisher
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Auburn’s Maita Ford Mercury, a staple of the foothills’ auto community for the past decade, closed its doors Monday due to declining sales and changing consumer tastes in vehicles. “This has been a very tough time, and this was a very difficult decision, especially to all our employees,” said owner-operator Leslie Maita. “But it has been very up and down the last several months, and it doesn’t look like (sales) were going to get better anytime soon,” she said. The dealership, located at 1650 Highway 49, had been selling about 30 vehicles a month, Maita said — and most of those were the fuel-efficient Escape hybrid sport utility vehicle and the compact Focus, a gas sipper in a lot filled with large and light-duty trucks. The Maita family purchased the dealership from McLaughlin Ford Mercury in January 1998. Through 2005, Maita Ford Mercury sold an average of 90 or more vehicles a month, Maita said. As sales declined along with the economy, the dealership reduced its labor and operating expense, she added, but realized it wasn’t an equation that would work. The dealership’s 41 employees will lose their jobs, but about a dozen will stay on board for the next month to repair vehicles in the service bays, move used vehicles to Maita’s five other dealerships in the greater Sacramento area, and return about 50 new vehicles to Ford, Maita said. Two new vehicles delivered to the dealership Monday morning will be returned as well. The dealership is not taking any new sales or service contracts. Maita is referring customers to Roseville’s Future Ford for warranty service on Ford vehicles purchased in Auburn. One dealer on Auburn’s Auto Mile said he “wasn’t surprised” with the decision given the closure of other Ford dealerships across the country. “There are too many domestic dealerships,” said Tony Toohey, vice president and general manager of Magnussen’s Auburn Toyota Scion. Toohey said Ford has more than 4,000 dealerships in the country, compared to Toyota’s 1,200. “One of the key indicators is sales per outlet,” Toohey said. “With vehicle sales on decline, it’s a matter of being over-dealered.” Nevertheless, it’s difficult to see one of Auburn’s key dealerships close, Toohey said. “It’s a frustrating turn of events,” he said. Auburn Chamber of Commerce CEO Bruce Cosgrove echoed Toohey, adding “my first reaction is disappointment. Maita Ford has done all it can to keep it going, and it was probably running at a loss for quite awhile.” “This loss will be felt, from the payroll that will be taken out of this town to the involvement of the business. It will have an economic impact on Auburn,” Cosgrove said. “But you have to respect they’re making a good decision for where they’re at.” Despite the closures of Maita Ford Mercury and Auburn Nissan in April, Cosgrove remains bullish on Auburn’s financial future. A chamber planning conference Saturday took dozens of business supporters to commercial, tourism and employment sites, concluding with dinner in a closed-off portion of High Street and Lincoln Way — the future site of a public plaza. “Even in a tight economy there are some great things happening,” he said. Maita said she likely will move to one of her family’s dealerships, but will remain living — and active — in the Auburn community. No decision has been made on what to do with the 4-acre dealership property. “I want to thank the community for their support for the past 10 years. I will still be in town,” she said. And that might just make the closure tougher. I’ve had plenty of sleepless nights, and I’ve cried a lot over this,” Maita said. “I’m not sure how I’m going to feel when I drive by and see nothing (on the lot).”