Robert Phillips wants to help make Mitsubishi a more familiar brand in the Buffalo Niagara region.
Phillips is managing partner of Hamburg Mitsubishi, which opened a few months ago in renovated, leased space at 5160 Camp Road, near a Thruway interchange. The dealership will celebrate its grand opening Thursday.
The Japanese brand has only one other franchised dealer in the region, Transitowne Mitsubishi in Amherst. The automaker wanted someone to fill a void in the Southtowns, and approached Joseph Bizzarro, owner of a dealership in Erie, Pa. Bizzarro, in turn, invited Phillips to partner with him on a Southtowns location, and he agreed. At the time, Phillips was operating a Mitsubishi dealership in Maryland on behalf of its owner.
Phillips said he liked the opportunity to move to a region going through a “resurgence,” from the growth of the Medical Campus in Buffalo to the development of the waterfront.
The Hamburg dealership started selling cars in February with a skeleton crew. Phillips said that sales have improved since then and that the dealership’s staff has expanded to 10 people. He expects the staff size to grow to about 25 people within a year.
Mitsubishi reported selling 38 new units in August, which was less than 1 percent of the 6,076 new vehicle sales reported by the Niagara Frontier Automobile Dealers Association. (Sales heavyweight Chevrolet does not disclose its sales figures.)
“What I like about how Mitsubishi fits in here is the affordability and what you really get for your money,” Phillips said.
The brand needs special attention from a dealer “because it’s under the radar for a lot of people, the awareness isn’t there yet,” Phillips said. As the dealership gets up to full speed, he said, he could see it eventually selling 500 to 700 units per year.
Nationwide, Mitsubishi recorded its best August sales total since 2008, and has had 18 straight months of year-over-year sales increases. But the automaker has announced that it will end production in November at its only North American assembly plant, in Illinois. Mitsubishi has about 380 dealerships in the United States.
Phillips moved here from Maryland about a year ago, just before the historic November snowstorms and an exceptionally frigid February. In January, he and his wife had a baby. Through it all, he quipped, they have probably earned their local stripes.
Hamburg Mitsubishi will have a 1 p.m. ribbon-cutting as part of Thursday’s grand opening, and hold giveaways throughout the day.