PREPARATIONS are currently underway to convert the headquarters of the once prominent auto dealership New Line Motors on Constant Spring Road in Kingston into a hardware outlet.
Tile City, a retail hardware store based at Ferry in St Catherine, has acquired the sprawling property, once the showpiece of used car dealerships in Kingston.
New Line, succumbing to the shrinking local car market and high operational costs, drastically scaled back operations earlier this year and ceased selling vehicles from the outlet.
Auto is, however, uncertain whether or not New Line's removal from the Constant Spring Road property signals CEO, Dr Harry Benjamin's exit from the car sales business. The company also operated outlets in Mandeville and Montego Bay.
However, reliable sources told Auto that another dealer now operates the outlet in Mandeville.
Efforts to get a response from Benjamin were unsuccessful up to press time yesterday.
In the meantime, New Line's expansive Constant Spring Road outdoor display area, once packed with vehicles for sale, now sits practically empty.
And calls to numbers of the New Line outlets across the island listed in the telephone directory are met with the recording, "This number is no longer in service."
One worker at the company told Auto that staff have been in limbo since declining business forced a cut back in operations at the property some four months ago.
According to the worker, who requested anonymity, management told them that activities at the company were in suspension.
"Basically the company went into financial difficulties. After that, everything took a plunge and we couldn't import anymore cars. The staff couldn't be paid and there was a cut in salary. We went through hell," he said.
He told Auto that he was given instructions to report to the headquarters yesterday, but is still uncertain about his future as the hardware sales company was now making preparations to take over the complex.
The local used car market took a plunge between 2007 and 2011 with imports sliding from 26,000 to 6,000, according to figures from Jamaica Used Car Dealers Association (JUCDA) president, Lynvall Hamilton.
"Sales dropped by about 30 per cent from 2009 to 2011 [and] it is over 50 per cent if you are looking from 2007 to now," said Hamilton.
In January, the JUCDA president told Auto that 25 dealers dropped out of the market during 2010 and 15 were on the verge of closing down.
He did not specify the companies.
New Line was at the forefront of used car sales for years, first operating out of offices at Hope Road, St Andrew.
Shortly after leaving its Hope Road property New Line unveiled its new car dealership as local agent for the China-manufactured Chery motor vehicle brand.
It heavily advertised the Chery QQ model, which was at the time promoted as the cheapest vehicle on the market.