Subaru of Claremont Latest Upper Valley Dealership to Be Sold

Valley News Business Writer
Friday, August 24, 2018

Claremont — An era is ending at another Upper Valley auto dealership as the family-owned auto dealership is being sold to a rapidly expanding regional car group.

Subaru of Claremont owner Peter Mans, who has operated the dealership for 22 years, is selling the Charlestown Road/Route 12 business to Concord auto dealer Dan O’Brien.

Both Mans and O’Brien said they expect to close on the sale by the end of the month.

The sale of Subaru of Claremont marks the sixth Upper Valley car dealership to be sold by longtime owners in the past 23 months as technology is forcing mom-and-pop dealers to either grow or sellout to regional dealership groups in a period where car sales remain strong.

In the case of Subaru of Claremont, owner Mans said it is simply time to drive off the lot for good.

“I’m 66 and have worked six days a week since I was 20 years old,” Mans said in a brief interview on Friday. “I’ve had enough.”

He declined to comment further, saying it would be “premature” to do so before the sale closed.

In a separate deal, Mans recently sold a 30-acre parcel of land at 168 Charlestown Road to McGee Toyota, which will build a new showroom and car lot on the vacant property, where it will relocate from its current site a half-mile north on Charlestown Road.

O’Brien owns Ken O’Brien Kia in Concord, which he acquired last year, and he is getting ready to open a second Kia dealership in North Hampton, N.H. A graduate of Waltham Senior High School in Waltham, Mass., O’Brien was formerly a minority shareholder in auto dealerships in Tennessee, Georgia and Florida before relocating to New Hampshire.

“Up here, Subaru is the brand to have,” O’Brien said in an interview. “We jumped at the chance when it came up.”

He said the name of the dealership will be changed to Dan O’Brien Subaru.

Under terms of the deal, O’Brien said he will become the owner and operator of Subaru franchise while Subaru of New England, the Norwood, Mass.-based company that exclusively distributes Subaru vehicles and parts to all 64 New England Subaru distributors, is purchasing the physical property.

Subaru of New England, which bills itself as the “world’s largest distributor of Subaru vehicles,” is owned by Ernie Boch. Boch sold his retail distributorships in 2015 but held onto to the wholesale distribution business.

Boch did not respond to a message for comment.

O’Brien said he has aggressive expansion plans for the Claremont Subaru franchise, ramping up the current inventory of 80 to 90 new and used vehicles on the lot to about 250 vehicles. He added he would keep the current staff and plans to add “20 more employees” within six months.

With his attention-grabbing Mr. Clean baldpate and Paul Bunyon red beard, O’Brien was recently named one of the “40 Under 40” “rising retailers” by trade publication Automotive News for taking control of a dealership that was averaging 25 new-vehicle sales per month to become the leading Kia store in the eastern region, the publication said.

The sale of Subaru of Claremont follows last October’s sale of Flanders & Patch Ford in Lebanon by owner Tom Thayer to St. J. Auto of St. Johnsbury.

Also in 2017 brothers Charlie and Allen Hall sold their Sykes Mountain Avenue Hyundai dealership to former Car Store and Subaru dealer owner Rick MacLeay and Howe Motors Toyota dealership in Claremont was sold to the McGee group in Massachusetts.

In 2016, Kurt Gerrish sold Gerrish Honda to Gengras Motor Cars of Connecticut.

MacLeay himself kicked off the trend earlier that year when he sold his Norwich Subaru dealership to Massachusetts-based Prime Motor Group.

Prime Subaru, as the renamed Car Store is now called, is getting ready to move into a new showroom on Sykes Mountain Avenue in White River Junction, making it the emerging center of gravity car sales in the Upper Valley.

Also along the same cluster of Sykes Mountain Avenue dealers, Key Auto of Portsmouth, N.H., plans to open the first Chevrolet franchise in the core towns of the Upper Valley since Miller Auto closed its Chevy dealership in Lebanon in 2015.

John Lippman can be reached at jlippman@vnews.com.