Saturday, May 23, 2009

Upcoming at Honolulu Weekly: GMO money at the State legislature.

The next installment of my research on who's funding our legislators' campaign races should be appearing this week in Honolulu Weekly. This one deals with agribusiness corporations such as Monsanto and Syngenta, which have heavy investments in both genetically modified crops and our legislators.

I've got a couple more campaign funding articles to spring after that. Nearly completed is a story about tobacco money in the legislature, which is already promised to Big Island Weekly. And then I've got a couple more pieces that I haven't finished researching yet and don't want to reveal until I've asked a few pointed questions of some specific legislators. After that, I'm going to be ready to take a break from the subject for a while. Anybody got something else they want investigated?

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Chevy Bites the Dust on the BI

Big Island Chevrolet is no more. Both the Kona- and Hilo-side dealerships have been taken over by GMAC, General Motor's finance wing, after the business's owner couldn't pay for the vehicles he'd purchased, in the wake of sales that had dropped over a third in the past year.

This touched me personally, unfortunately. I'm the owner of a 2000 Chevy Prizm. A Prizm is essentially a Toyota Corolla with a Chevy bow tie on the front, but some of the parts are just different enough from a Toyota's that you have to go through Chevy to get them. The tail lamps, for instance. I'd recently damaged a tail lamp, and after a fruitless search for a used one at local parts houses and on the Internet, I finally ordered one from BI Chevrolet for $216. That was last week. They said it would take about ten days to arrive. So when I heard on OC-16 last night that this would be the last day the dealership would be open, it was a call to action, even though I'm down with a bad respiratory infection.

This morning, I tried calling the Parts Department; no answer. So I jumped in the Prizm and, four cough drops later, walked into the department in the back of the dealership's sprawling Hilo complex.

The displays were already packed up, and the floor was strewn with boxes. There wasn't an employee in evidence at first, but after a few minutes' wait, one appeared from the back.

He told me that GMAC was taking over the the dealership and would probably call me when the part came in. In case they didn't, he gave me toll free number to call. Those of you who also are stuck with a GM product on this island should probably also save this number: 1-800-323-9935.

GM announced on May 8 that it would not be renewing the contracts of 1,100 dealerships nationwide when they came up for renewal in 2010. But Big Island Chevy was not on that list. It's demise was really a mass repo job: the local owner Alan Clark told the Tribune Herald that when he couldn't come up with enough capital to keep the business afloat and couldn't close a deal to sell the business fast enough for GM, GMAC seized all the company's assets, which had been used to collateralize the cars currently on the company's two lots. That doesn't seem to add up; the cars should be worth what Allen paid GMAC for them--or less, given that the company's good name has been sullied by its own instability, and very people on this island is going to buy a car that they have to take to O'ahu for service on the factory warranty. But I guess the furniture, computers, phones, and outstanding accounts are going to cover GMAC's interest.

That, of course, leaves all of us other creditors, such as me, at GM's mercy. I suddenly have a $216 stake in whether or not GM itself declares bankruptcy.

I wonder how many other dealerships across the country are simply being seized, as Island Chevrolet was. Those 1,100 whose contracts aren't being renewed may just be the tip of the iceberg.