Japanese automaker opens new dealership in Lawrence; deal could help spur development near 23rd and O’Connell
photo by: Chad Lawhorn/Journal-World photo
As the old joke goes, I have a fast car. The only thing it can’t pass is a gas station. But even so I’m still having a hard time keeping up with the changes in the Lawrence auto market. The latest news is that Mitsubishi has opened a dealership in Lawrence.
Lawrence Mitsubishi has opened right next door to Lawrence Kia at 1219 E. 23rd St. The new dealership comes on the heels of Lawrence-based Dale Willey Automotive buying the local Honda dealership from the Ellena family and the Dodge Jeep Chrysler Ram dealership from the Manhattan-based Briggs group. In addition, Kansas City-based McCarthy Auto Group bought the Lawrence Nissan and Subaru dealerships from Briggs.
If you aren’t familiar with Mitsubishi, it is a Japanese-based company that also is partly owned by the Japanese brand Nissan. Mitsubishi is in the process of expanding its North American presence. The Lawrence dealership is one of 34 new dealerships that the company has recently added in North America, according to information from the company.
The Lawrence dealership is largely owned by the same folks who have the Lawrence Kia dealership. The Mitsubishi dealership is located in the existing building that previously housed Kia’s used car operations.
Chintaka Rajapksha is the dealer principal for both the Mitsubishi and Kia dealerships. He said his company got interested in Mitsubishi because he thought the brand was set to be on a similar growth path that Kia was on several years ago. Many of the top marketing executives for Kia have joined Mitsubishi in the last year, he said.
“They really are wanting to amp up this brand and make a name for itself in America,” Rajapksha said.
Plus, he said, as Kia has become more popular, the average price of its models has increased. He said the dealership has been looking for a brand that can appeal to residents who are making $2,000 to $3,000 a month in wages.
“We think this will fill that niche,” he said.
The new dealership may lead to some future expansion on 23rd Street. Rajapksha said the dealership likely would remain in the existing building, which is near the back half of the Kia lot, for the next couple of years. But the local ownership group has a couple of options for building a new showroom for Mitsubishi, if business warrants it.
As we reported in February, Kia filed plans to close the car wash that it owned next door to the dealership to accommodate more vehicle sales. In addition, the ownership group also already has a lease on the old auto repair shop directly west of the dealership at the corner of 23rd Street and Ponderosa Drive. The group is interested in buying that location, which would allow for a Mitsubishi showroom to be built along 23rd Street.
Another intriguing possibility is farther east on 23rd Street. Rajapksha told me that he is part of a group that has purchased 27 acres next to Tractor Supply near 23rd Street and O’Connell Road. Specifically, the group owns the large piece of ground at the southeast corner of O’Connell Road and Exchange Place. When the commercial development was first envisioned, that was the parcel set aside for a grocery store or other big box retailer, but the development never gained such momentum. Rajapksha said the group purchased that property from a group of local businessmen in recent months. It is holding the property in case business calls for an even larger expansion of its dealerships.
One such plan could be to build a new, larger Kia dealership at the location near Tractor Supply. Rajapksha said the Kia dealership was growing between 10% and 20% a year, and that it has a five-person Allstate Insurance office located inside it.
“There are a lot of people in and out of the building,” he said.
If that move were to happen, then the existing Kia building could be rebranded into a Mitsubishi showroom.
But any such move depends on future business activity, he said. It is worth watching because the commercial development near Tractor Supply has languished for years. Lawrence businessman Roger “R.D.” Johnson also is a relatively new owner in the commercial development. Johnson owns the commercial lots on the north side of Exchange Place. Johnson also continues to build new houses just south of the commercial area.
“I bet you R.D. and I talk nearly every other week about what that area could become,” Rajapksha said. “We are just hoping this Mitsubishi brand takes off like Kia did.”