With new car sales slumping with the economy, Bill Heard Chevrolet closed down suddenly.  (Atlanta Business Chronicle article).

The company began in Columbus in 1919, founded by W.T. Heard Sr. It developed into the country’s biggest Chevrolet dealer for years and runs dealerships in Georgia, Alabama, Florida, Tennessee, Texas and Nevada. But the souring economy brought less demand for new cars and GMAC recently eliminated Bill Heard’s credit for inventory, the paper noted. As Atlanta Business Chronicle reported in July 2007, Bill Heard faced a $50 million deceptive advertising lawsuit and was bombarded with a litany of complaints from consumers in the states where it operated.

One of my clients is an Atlanta area dealer of domestic new cars, and they have cut their staff dramatically because of poor sales.  However, in the case of Bill Heard, the volume of complaints and investigations is probably a factor. (See article here and some video here).

The Atlanta Journal also has an article in today’s edition:

Though it blamed the current economic turmoil, the company’s financial and legal problems have been mounting for several years. The most recent example was GMAC Financial Services’ decision last month to discontinue credit for new inventory for some of Bill Heard’s dealerships. It cited concerns about financial losses at the company.

The company also has had several battles with the Governor’s Office of Consumer Affairs, which has been investigating the company since 2003.

Last year, the Consumer Affairs office filed a lawsuit that accuse the company of engaging in a 16-year pattern of deceptive sales pitches. The allegations came a year after the company sent 10,000 Georgia car owners a flyer with the words “Urgent Potential Recall Notice” that appeared to come from General Motors.

The suit, the first the agency has filed against a car dealer in three decades, said the recall notice “was intended and designed to mislead recipients into believing that their automobiles were subject to an urgent recall, so that the recipients would call Bill Heard’s sales staff and be solicited for an automobile purchase or service contract.”