Editor's note: This is a continuation of a series of interviews with Charleston auto dealers. Today: Bucky Morris, CEO and vice president of Morris Nissan on Savannah Highway.
Morris Nissan is one of the few Charleston car dealers that have been with a manufacturer from the start of U.S. operations. Bucky Morris' grandfather and father "took on" Datsun (the original name later replaced with "Nissan") at a Rivers Avenue location in 1965. It is the oldest Nissan dealership in South Carolina.
In an interview with Bucky Morris, I learned a good deal about a true family-owned enterprise. Bucky and brother David are vice presidents reporting to their father, D.P. "Buck" Morris, chairman of the board. He prefers to be called "Buck," and he tells the story about turning down an original Volkswagen Beetle franchise in Charleston. Later, when the Datsun franchise became available, he grabbed it, "not wanting to make another mistake."
The third Morris generation is represented by Wesley, the service manager; Gil, the new car sales manager; and David, the used car manager. I even met a member of the fourth generation, Kara, a darling great-niece of Bucky's.
Obviously, a visitor to or customer of Morris Nissan gets immersed with the family, which has to be a distinct advantage. No absentee ownership here. The following Q&A reveals more:
Q. How is business at Morris Nissan?
A. Excellent. We've just completed a renovation, which gives a new, distinct appearance to the building, a model design which will be featured in other dealerships nationwide.
Q. In the past few years, Nissan has had a remarkable resurgence. What happened?
A. Carlos Ghosn, the company's CEO, has accomplished a remarkable turnaround ? closing factories in Japan, opening new ones around the world and implementing product changes and improvements, the latest being the entry-level Versa to be introduced this summer with an MSRP of $13,000.
Q. What has been your experience with the Titan (a full-size pickup)?
A. It's the finest truck on the market, but it has a big mountain to climb against GM and Ford, pickups being the heart of their business. Gas prices have not affected sales because when customers need a pickup truck, they buy one.
Q. Speaking of gas prices, what has been customer reaction so far?
A. MPG is not a primary issue. The Altima, for example, gets 25 (mpg) highway.
Q. Has the SUV market collapsed?
A. Believe it or not, our three SUVs ? Xterra, Pathfinder and Armada ? are selling extremely well.
Q. How do you see the "crossover" market?
A. The Murano has been gaining since it came out in 2003. It will grow as it gets more attention.
Q. Is the car business an industry you would recommend to a young person thinking about a career?
A. Young people have an excellent opportunity to make a very good living in the auto business in sales, service, finance, administration. Regarding service, many should look at technical colleges. They don't necessarily need a four-year degree. We'll always be looking for good technicians. The old days of shade-tree mechanics are gone. Today's technician needs computer skills ? all of our diagnostic and alignment require computer knowledge. A top technician makes $25 to $28 an hour plus bonuses. Good service advisers, $60,000 to $70,000 a year. If a young person has desire and drive, there are plenty of opportunities up to becoming a dealer.
Q. Any further comments?
A. It's a fun business. This is something I wanted to do since I was a little boy. Our proudest accomplishment is being able to carry on the tradition my father started, which enables him to happily retire.
George Spaulding is a retired General Motors executive and executive-in-residence emeritus at the School of Business and Economics at the College of Charleston.