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Car dealers in Saginaw, Mich., are working with local conversion-van companies to revitalize sales, according to a report in the Saginaw News.
The strategy reinforces last month’s launch of the Conversion Van Marketing Association, a pact between converters and General Motors Corp. designed to increase consumer interest and sales for the Chevrolet Express and GMC Savana conversion vans.
Jim Hollingsworth, new-car sales manager at Draper Chevrolet, said the Saginaw Township dealership rarely has conversion vans on the lot.
“When we do have customers, we take them out to (van converter) Debut Coach and take them on a tour of the whole manufacturing plant,” Hollingsworth said. “They help us to actually sell them. They know everything about them, and there’s no guess work.”
While at the Debut facility, the customer also has the opportunity to select exactly how they want their van equipped, Hollingsworth said.
Debut Coach Co. Inc. and Saginaw County neighbor Majestic Van Corp. are both members of the marketing association, whose goal is to increase GM conversion-van sales by 25% in the next two years.
As a group “we can tell the story” of conversion vans better, said Rod McSweeney, association president and owner of Southern Comfort Conversion Inc. in Trussville, Ala.
In 1988, prior to the SUV invasion, conversion-van sales topped 200,000. Last year, consumers purchased about 38,800 conversion vans, according to the Recreational Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA).
“Sales have flat-lined,” McSweeney said.
Dodge stopped producing its full-size van a year ago, and Ford has not changed its product in 10 years, said Craig Bye Sr., owner and president of Debut. To increase its sales, GM hopes to win former Dodge customers and lure over Ford owners with GM’s newest van features, a left-side door behind the driver and all-wheel drive.
“The consumer that we’re trying to reach has an active lifestyle – the Baby Boomers who have enough money to travel,” McSweeney said.
He feels the all-wheel drive feature helps vans compete against SUVs.
“They have the capability of towing, and they’re roomier and fit more people comfortably,” McSweeney said. “They’re less expensive than an SUV.”
Conversion vans – typically equipped with four captains chairs and a sofa seat in the back – sell for $35,000 to $55,000, depending on the type of conversion, ranging from moderate to luxurious, said Brian Bivens, vice president of Majestic.
Leather seating, high-definition televisions and sound systems are included among luxury items.
“Once the public realizes how far (the industry) has come in the last 10 years, (a van) is something they would consider,” he said.
GM represents half of the U.S. conversion-van market in the first half of 2004. Ford had about one-third and Dodge the rest.