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Ex-Chrysler Dealer Hits Roadblock In Sales Bid

Chrysler is tangled in disputes involving state dealer laws in California, Montana, Ohio and Florida with car sellers who went through arbitration.

DENVER (AP) -- A former car dealer's effort to start selling Jeeps and Chryslers again has hit a roadblock.

The Phil Long Denver Jeep Chrysler dealership was among 789 dealers Chrysler Group LLC tried to shed last year before emerging from bankruptcy. Congress set up an arbitration process to appeal, and the Denver dealer has a temporary state license to sell new Chryslers and Jeeps again.

However, Chrysler has already awarded the right to sell Chryslers and Jeeps to a Go Dodge dealer across the street, and the Phil Long dealership says Chrysler hasn't agreed to sell it any new vehicles.

Instead, Chrysler is asking a federal judge to rule whether the arbitration process set up by Congress is trumped by a Colorado law that lets existing Chrysler dealers protest and essentially block another dealer from launching -- or relaunching -- nearby.

"Chrysler will not win this battle," Phil Long CEO Jay Cimino wrote in a letter to Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne.

Chrysler is tangled in similar disputes involving state dealer laws in California, Montana, Ohio and Florida with car sellers who went through arbitration.

Cimino told Marchionne he would walk away from the dispute for $5.5 million, the amount he says the dealership lost in the fight to keep selling Jeeps and Chryslers. He said the business also might be interested in a settlement that would award it a Fiat dealership. Italian automaker Fiat Group SpA controls Chrysler.

"The $5.5 million is a fraction of what we've lost," Cimino said. "We lost money, key employees, human dignity. The pain and suffering -- it's hard to put a dollar on it."

Chrysler said in a written statement that it is engaged in litigation to resolve issues affecting issuance of a sales and service agreement to Phil Long. It said it would be inappropriate to discuss the matter further while it is in litigation, and Chrysler spokesman Michael Palese declined to comment on Cimino's settlement offer.

Chrysler contends in its complaint filed in U.S. District Court in Michigan that some of its existing Denver-area dealers have said they intend to protest Phil Long's relaunch. The complaint listed dealers with protest rights in Colorado but didn't say which ones intended to mount a challenge.

A Go Dodge vice president did not return a phone message seeking comment.

Chrysler contends Phil Long's arbitration win committed the automaker to extend a letter of intent for a sales and service agreement, but it didn't promise to add the dealer to its network if the dealer couldn't meet operational prerequisites and other conditions.

Colorado Automobile Dealers Association Tim Jackson said Chrysler never should have shed the Phil Long dealership, which was profitable, and that a Chrysler-Jeep sales agreement should never have been awarded to Go Dodge across the street.

Go Dodge also had been on Chrysler's dump list last year despite being profitable, but it remains in the dealer network, Jackson said.

"It's pretty illogical what happened," Jackson said.

The Phil Long dealership had about 50 employees when Chrysler dropped it, Cimino said. It stayed open selling used cars under a different name, but some employees chose to leave. There were just 29 when Phil Long won its appeal in arbitration. The head count is now around 40.

Cimino said his business would remain viable with or without Chrysler, but he is still fighting to regain the franchise to sell its new vehicles.

"It's like someone stealing something from you," he said. "You want it back."

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