It has been a long time coming, but Basil Volkswagen is finally ready to open its doors in Lockport.
The dealership, owned by Michael Basil, is set to debut Thursday. The location is next door to his Toyota dealership and joins a growing “automotive row” on Transit Road.
Volkswagen has made headlines this year, including a United Auto Workers bid to organize its factory in Chattanooga, Tenn., and the automaker’s announcement that it will build a midsize SUV at the same plant starting in 2016. The German carmaker has set a lofty goal: to become the world’s largest automaker by 2018. But its U.S. sales have lagged this year.
Closer to home, Basil Volkswagen will be the brand’s fourth Buffalo-area location, joining Northtown in Amherst, Schmitt’s in Bowmansville and Volkswagen of Orchard Park.
Basil has set an ambitious target of his own: to sell 500 new Volkswagens in his dealership’s first full year of business. The region’s three other Volkswagen dealers sold about 1,400 combined new units last year, according to the Niagara Frontier Automobile Dealers Association.
Basil has invested $3 million in the new Volkswagen dealership, which involved demolishing part of a former Toyota dealership and overhauling the service center. The new dealership uses the “white frame” design stipulated by Volkswagen. The automaker is meticulous about how the dealership must be laid out, and Basil worked for three months to get permission to install a fireplace in the customer seating area.
Basil is one of six brothers in the local auto sales industry. His new dealership will open with 28 employees – a total he expects will grow – and 120 new vehicles on the lot.
Matt Glynn: How far back does this project go?
Michael Basil: It’s been a long road. We started on this thing in 2010. That’s when we kind of reviewed the market and were seeing who might want to come to Lockport. We started chasing franchises and, of course, everybody tells you ‘no’ right up front. In 2012, we just kept chasing and Volkswagen finally said, funny you should call. And we were talking about Lockport, so that started the interview process. And that was pretty intense.
MG: You were awarded the franchise in December 2012. What took so long to open the dealership?
MB: Volkswagen is as fastidious with the buildings as they are with their vehicles. They sweat the details like you wouldn’t believe. ... It’s ultramodern, very clean, pretty much everything’s white, kind of like the Apple stores, modern furniture. … The delays for the two years were nothing other than trying to design the building for perfection. That’s what it really came down to. The design process was very intense. But the other side of the coin is, when you go into the building, it’s very much suited to what we want to do.
MG: What attracted you to the Volkswagen brand?
MB: We think Volkswagen is really ready to explode. We really think with the future products coming, we think the next 18 months are going to be really exciting with Volkswagen. They’ve really got a drive on to increase sales in the United States. When we won the franchise, we were one of four in the country that year that got awarded an open [dealership] point. That should tell you how intense the competition was to try and get the Volkswagen franchise here in Lockport.
MG: Volkswagen’s U.S. sales are struggling this year, down 13 percent through June. How do you feel about opening up in the middle of that?
MB: We’re extremely excited. I think Volkswagen is poised to become a huge market leader. Their convictions are very strong with their product. They know they’ve struggled with dealer relations. We met with our regional manager (this month) and what he told us was really very positive. I think they’re going to be very aggressive, I think they’re going to have great products. They’re going to rival some companies that aren’t considering them as major competitors.
MG: Volkswagen wants to overtake Toyota for No. 1 in global sales. You sell both brands, so doesn’t that put you in an interesting position?
MB: I would say that it’s kind of rewarding, to tell you the truth. We feel like we’re associated with two great companies, is really what it gets down to. Trying to find a downside to that is very tough. And we believe in competition. We believe competition makes everybody stronger. Just like with this Lockport market. When we came here [in 2001], the amount of sales increase that we have experienced has been phenomenal. And it’s population growth, it’s marketing, it’s customer satisfaction, word of mouth. We love Lockport and we love the proximity of these other communities to Lockport.
MG: How do you see the auto sales climate for all brands in this region?
MB: We think this community is extremely rock solid. We don’t get the big press nationally, but when you think about what goes on in Buffalo, it’s a great place to live, it’s a great place to do business, and the people are fantastic.