Sunday, January 23, 2005

Wheeling and Dealing

Vacaville's auto row continues to thrive

By Barbara Smith/Business Writer

Development of Vacaville's auto mall has raced forward since the first plans to expand it emerged five years ago.

Today, Orange Drive's auto row boasts 10 dealerships. Whether shoppers are looking for a Harley-Davidson motorcycle or a family friendly sport utility vehicle, it is arguably becoming the place to shop.

Construction of new dealerships moved quickly after Lithia Motors announced its decision to purchase a former amusement park property on Orange Drive at the beginning of the decade. Deals with the Barber Dealership Group and Saturn soon followed.
The momentum continues now that Saturn has plans for one of the last parcels available in the busy sector.

Under review with city planners, Saturn plans to build an 18,000-square-foot, two-level dealership at the corner of Orange Drive and Orange Tree Circle, next to the Volkswagen dealership and across from the Department of Motor Vehicles. The site plan allows for 116 parking spaces and driveways on both sides of the corner.

"We're pretty psyched about the facility," said Todd Barnes, president of North Bay Saturn Group. "It's going to be gorgeous. I think that the whole Vacaville auto row is just the right place to be, and we're very fortunate to have the opportunity."

The new dealership will replace the existing Saturn of Vacaville, presently located east of the site. That dealership has served as a satellite sales only location for 10 years, Barnes said. Currently, Saturn customers have to go to the Fairfield store for service.

Now, the new dealership will offer service in addition to sales. Saturn decided that the market has grown to the point where it needed a full service facility for sales and service.
Barnes said he's very optimistic about the Vacaville market.
"It's a little more youth oriented, the city is growth oriented and that will bode well for us in the future," he said. "We really feel like the timing is right now. As Saturn owner families grow, we'll have vehicles that will meet their transportation needs."

The timing is also right because Saturn is adding to its product portfolio with larger cars, like a seven-passenger crossover van named the Relay. Next year, a two-seater roadster called the Sky will debut and immediately following a new, extremely stylish four-door called the Aura, Barnes said.

"General Motors is really focusing on Saturn at this point to revitalize the GM brand, very similar to the renaissance that Cadillac went through a few years ago," Barnes said. "Saturn is moving upscale, and will end up being a brand within the General Motors family that will fall between Pontiac and Cadillac."

The new facility will cost up to $2.5 million to build, and will add about 25 to 30 jobs, Barnes said. He expects city approval by the end of the month, and hopes construction will commence by the end of March.

Peyman Behvan, associate planner with the city, said staff is excited about the new Saturn dealership.

"We're pretty excited that they're moving to a more prominent location and obviously expanding. We're happy about that, and we'll do what we can to facilitate that," he said.
Behvan said auto dealerships are important to the city.

"It's good for the city in a tax dollars sense, but it's good for business generally," he said. "And we have a pretty good working relationship with the dealerships."

There are still a few parcels of land along Orange Drive, but there's no telling if more dealerships will move in, Behvan said.

Barbara Smith can be reached at

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