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Monster motor mall opens with auto chief on hand

The challenge of running his family’s car dealership fell to a 26-year-old Rob Cochran in 1992, shortly before the untimely passing of his father.

Dad would have been proud to see Rob, now 37, wheeling into the lot of the new #1 Cochran MegaCenter in Monroeville — now the largest General Motors Corp. dealership in the eastern U.S. based on sales volume — in a new Cadillac XLR convertible with GM Chairman G. Richard Wagoner Jr. riding shotgun.

“We like being the benchmark in this market, and the benchmark has just been raised,” Cochran said of his new complex that, once complete, will span 22 acres and six buildings. Cochran employs 430 people in Monroeville and Robinson Township.

The MegaCenter encompasses all GM brands except Chevrolet — Pontiac, Buick, GMC, Saturn, Hummer and Cadillac.

It replaces Cochran’s previous complex in a former Kaufmann’s department store building, where Cochran joked that his Saturn sales team somehow managed to be the volume leader in sales in Pennsylvania despite being tucked away in the lawn and garden department.

Cochran said the MegaCenter contains elements that are usually reserved for larger markets like Los Angeles, including multiple showrooms, a cafe and a quick-service center where customers can remain in their cars and buy a coffee and pastry and watch a drop-down television set as technicians change the oil or service the brakes.

Wagoner, whose father was raised in Beaver Falls, said large dealer complexes like Cochran’s are becoming the trend, in part because it is necessary for new dealerships to generate higher volumes to defray overhead expenses.

“In general, we see this concept being executed more broadly,” he said.

Cochran said his dealership, in which he has invested about $20 million, is on pace to sell 10,000 new vehicles in 2003.

Wagoner said the best thing GM can do to keep its dealers like Cochran prospering is to build good cars.

At Cadillac alone, sales through August increased 5.4 percent– versus an overall 4.3 percent decline at GM — on the strength of new models like the Escalade sport utility, the CRS sedan and XLR coupe.

Wagoner led the auto industry shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in introducing zero percent financing to help keep the U.S. economy, already wobbly, from crumbling.

Consumers responded, resulting in record auto sales in the past three years.

Cochran said he expects GM to keep offering strong consumer incentives in order to maintain its market share, but he said that as new GM products are introduced that spark consumer interest, low interest rates and cash rebates will be less necessary to keep inventory moving.

“As they bring out new products, the need for incentives will not be as large,” he said.

Wagoner said the tariffs on steel are having only a minor effect on his company’s costs, while causing headaches for many GM suppliers.

He took aim instead on what he says is a deliberate devaluing of the yen by the Japanese government, which favors Japanese producers.


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