Dealership sees fourth decade of Honda growth

John Raffealli has been searching for months for a replacement for a missing "H" nameplate for his 1978 Honda Civic.

The search is all the more maddening for Raffealli, co-owner of Bill Pearce Honda in Reno, because thousands of the signature nameplates have crossed in front of him during the four decades that the dealership has sold Hondas.

The company's Honda dealer number 6577 tells the story.

The automaker's dealership numbering begins at 6500, which means that the Reno dealership was the 77th selected by Honda as it began rolling out its brand of then-tiny cars into the America market in the first years of the Nixon administration.

Sandy Raffealli, who owns the dealership with her husband, recalls that Honda was looking to align itself with General Motors dealerships as it entered the American market.

Waldren Oldsmobile where her father, Bill Pearce, was working as a sales executive took on the Honda line, displaying the little cars at its dealership near along South Virginia Street near Plumb Lane.

The Japanese cars were purely a sideline for Waldren Oldsmobile, Sandy Raffealli recalls, helping it in its spirited competition with the other dealers in Reno Richardson-Lovelock Ford, for instance, or Hermann & Wilson Inc. Chrysler-Plymouth that were selling the American brands that dominated the market in the early 1970s.

"Honda sales were very, very spotty," says John Raffealli, recalling what he was told of those early days by Bill Pearce, who died in 1998.

Pearce and his wife, Doris, purchased the Waldren Oldsmobile Honda dealership from its founding family in 1974 and their timing couldn't have been better.

The first oil crisis that began in late 1973 pushed up gas prices by nearly 45 cents they topped 55 cents a gallon in mid-1974! and economy cars such as those from Honda and its Japanese competitors Toyota and Datsun got fresh attention from economy-minded consumers.

Honda got another boost with its introduction of its Civic model in 1972. The car's engine relied on "compound vortex controlled combustion" hence, its name that allowed motorists to use less-expensive leaded gas at a time that other carmakers were moving to catalytic converters that required lead-free fuel.

"That's when sales really took off," says John Raffealli.

In fact, the relative positions of the dealership's two brands began to shift. The Civic, along with other Honda nameplates, has been a perennial best-seller in the American market; Oldsmobile slowly declined and was last produced by General Motors in 2004.

Bill Pearce, however, was cautious about the growth potential of Honda.

When his company built its current dealership facility at 780 Kietzke Lane, he was fearful of building a facility that was too large.

"We were under-built when we opened," recalls Sandy Raffealli.

Some staff members who made the move into the new facility remain with the company today.

"We take a lot of pride in that," says Sandy Raffealli.

Sales have grown consistently, John Raffealli says, with the availability of vehicles often proving to be the most important factor. Supplies increased when Honda launched manufacturing operations in Ohio and Alabama; they got tight last year after the Japanese earthquake limited production of some components.

Women account for a relatively large portion of Honda buyers the brand doesn't have anything close to a muscle car in its lineup and buyers remain strongly loyal to the brand, says Sandy Raffealli.


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