Auto Move

Hartford Courant (Sunday) - - Front Page - By Ken­neth R. Gos­selin kgos­[email protected]

Mitchell Auto Group is ex­pand­ing onto Hartford’s “Auto Row.”

HARTFORD – The aroma of roast­ing cof­fee beans at the for­mer Baronet’s cof­fee plant on We­ston Street will soon be re­placed by an­other: the “new car” smell.

Mitchell Auto Group of Sims­bury and Can­ton is near­ing the com­ple­tion of a $9 mil­lion ren­o­va­tion of the plant and will re­lo­cate its lux­ury Land Rover SUV fran­chise to Hartford’s “Auto Row” from the Farm­ing­ton Val­ley.

“It was funny, when we first started, for the first two, three months, you could still smell the cof­fee,” Dave Tefft, man­ag­ing gen­eral part­ner at the auto group, said.

The re­lo­ca­tion marks the first time Mitchell Auto has re­lo­cated one of its fran­chises to Hartford from the Farm­ing­ton Val­ley, where it was founded in Sims­bury in 1922.

The move was pushed by Land Rover’s Bri­tish man­u­fac­turer, Jaguar. Jaguar, a di­vi­sion of In­dia’s Tata Mo­tors, saw Hartford as more cen­trally lo­cated with bet­ter high­way ac­cess, Tefft said.

“Most im­por­tantly, all the man­u­fac­tur­ers want to be next to the other man­u­fac­tur­ers,” Tefft said. “So Mercedes is here. BMW is here. So, we should be here.”

The ren­o­va­tion is the lat­est up­grade to the city’s Auto Row. In June, New Coun­try BMW of Hartford de­buted a new $5 mil­lion deal­er­ship. The 39,000square-foot show­room in­cludes three cus­tomer lounges, a cof­fee bar and a retail dis­play of BMW life­style ac­ces­sories and cloth­ing.

The re­lo­ca­tion also ups the com­pet­i­tive ante on Auto Row, adding an­other lux­ury mo­tor ve­hi­cle brand to BMW and oth­ers such as Jaguar and Cadil­lac.

Mark Mitchell, co-owner of Mitchell Auto and grand­son of its

founder, said Land Rover has re­quired spe­cific de­sign el­e­ments of the new show­room, all aimed at em­pha­siz­ing a high-end image for the brand.

Those el­e­ments in­clude a $15,000 main en­trance out­fit­ted in wal­nut and out­door walk­ways made of im­ported crushed English gran­ite and in­di­vid­ual in­door bays where cus­tomer can pick up newly pur­chased ve­hi­cles, elim­i­nat­ing a walk through the park­ing lot.

Con­necti­cut’s fran­chise laws al­low for car man­u­fac­tur­ers to re­quire deal­er­ships to make up­grades ev­ery decade to project a fresh image for the brand.

Mitchell pur­chased the build­ing at the end of 2016 for $3 mil­lion, ac­cord­ing to city records, and it is spend­ing the balance of the $9 mil­lion on ren­o­va­tions. The new show­room is ex­pected to open in late Fe­bru­ary or early March.

Mitchell’s re­lo­ca­tion of its Land Rover fran­chise from Can­ton rep­re­sents a sig­nif­i­cant ex­pan­sion — in­creas­ing its show­room, sales and ser­vice space by nearly six times to 30,000 square feet.

The auto group will be able to show­case 12 ve­hi­cles in­stead of two, and it will have 18 ser­vice bays in­stead of eight. Mitchell will also ex­pand its hir­ing — mostly in en­try-level car ser­vic­ing jobs — from its cur­rent 18 to as many as 63.

The ex­pan­sion comes nearly a cen­tury af­ter Mitchell’s grand­fa­ther started the car busi­ness in a cow barn in Sims­bury. To­day, the auto group also sells Chrysler, Dodge, Ford, RAM, Saab, Subaru, Volk­swa­gen and Volvo in six lo­ca­tions in the Farm­ing­ton Val­ley and Wind­sor.

Mitchell said the ex­pan­sion did not come with­out care­ful con­sid­er­a­tion — and some nerves.

“It’s a huge leap of faith on our be­half that we are do­ing the right thing,” Mitchell said. “It does show our con­fi­dence in the market.”

Tefft es­ti­mates that Mitchell will sell or lease 50 new and used Land Rovers in Novem­ber, a to­tal he sees as dou­bling for the same month in the new, larger lo­ca­tion in Hartford.

Even with sticker prices for new Land Rovers rang­ing from $35,000 to $150,000, Tefft sees a ro­bust market, not­with­stand­ing a gy­rat­ing stock market and fore­casts of a ris­ing — yet still low — prob­a­bil­ity of re­ces­sion in the next two years.

“The big­gest part with this fran­chise is that it’s got ca­chet,” Tefft said.

In the Hartford area, Tefft said the fran­chise has a lot of clients from ESPN as well as other Hartford “celebri­ties.”

He adds: “As long as Tom Brady is driv­ing one, as long as the Housewives of Or­ange County are driv­ing one, and as long as you see them on TV with all the celebri­ties, yeah, we have con­fi­dence.”

KEN­NETH R. GOS­SELIN/HARTFORD COURANT

Mark Mitchell, coowner of Mitchell Auto Group, at left, and Dave Tefft, man­ag­ing gen­eral part­ner, in what will be the show­room of their Land Rover deal­er­ship in Hartford.

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