DICKINSON — With some of the industry’s toughest years in the rearview mirror and strong signs of growth on the road ahead, McRee Ford is planning a $10 million building to replace its existing one at 2800 Interstate 45.
The 85,000-square-foot development will include a showroom and repair facility under one roof and comes as Houston region dealers, including those in Galveston County, are enjoying the highest sales since 2007, just before a national recession put car sales in the ditch.
Mitchell Dale, whose family opened McRee Ford in 1947, points to rapid growth on the mainland, the strength of automaker Ford and confidence in the future as reasons to invest in a new building.
“I don’t think there’s anywhere in the Houston market that looks brighter than northern Galveston County,” Dale said.
It wasn’t so long ago that FM 646, north of the dealership, was still a cow pasture, Dale said.
But development has swept through that part of the county. And hundreds of houses are scheduled to begin coming online midcounty in 2015 as part of the massive development known as Lago Mar, which is expected to eventually bring thousands of houses and new retail to land east and west of I-45 from just north of FM 1764 to Holland Road.
The Tanger Outlets and the soon-to-open Buc-ee’s mega gas station and convenience store also is evidence of growth, Dale said.
“We want to update our facilities to better serve our customers,” Dale said. “We have a positive feeling about the future.”
But another reason to invest in the business is his family’s future, Dale said. Although the rise of publicly owned mega-dealerships has accelerated in the past 15 years, McRee is still family owned. Dale’s son, daughter and son-in-law are the fourth generation to work at the dealership.
“We’re building for their future,” Dale said. “We’re a family business, and it’s something we take a lot of pride in.”
The business got its name from Franklin Bismarck McRee, founder of the dealership and Dale’s grandfather.
The new building will rise on property next to the existing one, which will be torn down when the development is complete.
Because of the way lines are drawn, the existing building is in an unincorporated part of the county. But the new building on the same property will be in Dickinson’s city limits.
The existing building has been remodeled and added on to five or six times, Dale said.
“It’s inefficient; we’ve outgrown it,” he said. “Fortunately, we have a total of 30 acres and the room to do it.”
Ford and other car manufacturers are making a big push to upgrade and remodel facilities, Dale said.
After some deep lows for the auto industry, Ford has made a strong recovery. Ford a few years ago bucked an industry trend of seeking federal help during the most perilous times for automakers. Nationally, Ford’s full-size F-series pickup trucks were the top-selling vehicle in March, according to a list released this week by Autodata Corp., which tracks sales data.
In the Houston region, the Ford F150 was the top seller, according to Infonation Inc., which supplies sales data and trends to the Houston Automobile Dealers Association.
“In Texas, when men and women say ‘Come look at my new car,’ it’s a pickup truck,” Dale said.
Industry observers attribute the strong sales to low interest rates, declining unemployment and attractive new vehicles that lure consumers to showrooms.
Last year, Houston regional dealers, including those in Galveston County, sold 347,859 units, their highest annual sales for since 2007, up 7 percent from the 325,088 sold in 2012, according to Infonation Inc.
Meanwhile, average retail prices soared to a record $35,358.
The market has made many strides since 2009, one of the worst for U.S. sales since 1982.
“By every measure, 2013 was a banner year for region dealers,” according to a report by the Houston Automobile Dealers Association. “Truck/SUV market share increased, average retail sale prices hit a record high and most brands achieved retail sales growth over 2012. The strongest fourth-quarter sales in 12 years underscores consumer response to many new models.”
Crews are expected to break ground on the McRee Ford development in 60 days and complete construction about 18 months after.
“Business is good,” Dale said.
Contact reporter Laura Elder at 409-683-5248 or firstname.lastname@example.org.