A heavy sigh of relief swept through Lodi's car lots on Friday as word of President Bush's $17.4 billion auto loan package reached the ears of those in the industry.
"We're glad to see Chrysler and GM being helped out. If they fail, that affects us," said Geweke Ford manager Mark Meyer. He said Ford was still stable, as sales staff and customers milled about the dealership.
Meyer explained that the three companies are clients of the same parts manufacturers. Items like rubber gaskets, glass, copper parts and other items come from the same vendors. If one or both of the troubled automakers were to crumble, Ford would feel the shock through rising costs from those vendors.
"It's like a rebirth for the auto industry. We're seeing a lot of change," Meyer said of the way dealers and finance companies think about and transact business with customers.
The loans were welcome news to Lodi car dealers who were directly impacted, such as Sanborn Chevrolet General Manager Dennis Calton.
"They're going to be able to continue to produce the cars that we can sell," Calton said. Just days ago, Chrysler and GM had planned to shut down their manufacturing plants for no less than a month. But Calton said supply lines should remain open thanks to the loans.
Even though foot traffic has slowed on many of Lodi's lots in recent months, Meyer said Geweke has seen an upswing in sales.
"We've had a dramatic increase in new vehicle sales. Especially in new trucks," Meyer said, stating sales were up by about 50 percent in the past few weeks. Both he and Calton said that sales incentives and lower costs made it a "buyer's market." Other Geweke dealerships like Toyota and Kia had also seen an increase in sales numbers. "It's a real positive energy," Meyer said.
Mike Tiehm, co-owner of the Plummer Automall in Lodi, said that if the automakers had to file for bankruptcy, it still wouldn't be their end. He said that the companies would simply go into reorganization and move forward from there.
Meyer said that everyone at Geweke Ford - indeed, everyone he has spoken with in the auto trade - is hopeful about the future.
Though credit has tightened up, Geweke still works with about 10 finance companies to secure loans for their customers.
So, what if sales don't pick up for GM or Chrysler dealers? Will the government loans - which will need to be paid by March 31 if automakers can't prove the restructuring is having a positive effect - make any difference to an already ailing industry?
"Obviously, we all need to sell cars to survive. If credit doesn't loosen up enough to allow people to buy cars, we may be in the same boat," Calton said. "But I don't think that's going to happen."