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Local car dealership helps with celebration

Sep. 15, 2013 @ 12:00 AM

HUNTINGTON -- It was 1963. Jack Moses already owned a Pontiac dealership in Huntington when he also opened a Volkswagen dealership in the 400 block of 4th Avenue. It was the city's only Volkswagen dealership, and the Beetle was the only vehicle the dealership sold.

And, boy, was it popular, said Barbara Moses Atkins, Jack Moses' daughter and a dealer today at Moses Honda Volkswagen.

Moses celebrated Volkswagen's 50th anniversary in Huntington on Thursday. The dealership is now located on eight acres at 5210 U.S. 60 in an adjoining space with Moses Honda, and it has other popular models now, such as the Jetta and the Passat.

Atkins remembers how, in the 1960s, the dealership had a waiting list for Beetles. The cars were built in Germany at that time (though they're manufactured in Mexico now), and dealers would get a notification of how many Beetles were coming on the ship from overseas, and their colors.

Atkins remembers going to the Volkswagen dealership after dinner with her father from the time she was a child, and how sought-after the Beetles were.

"That was my first car," she said. "It was an orange 'Super Beetle,' and it was a manual shift, because my father made us all learn on a manual shift.

"They sold for $1,700 back then. You could fill them up for $3, and that would last a couple weeks."

She was in high school at the time and would cram as many friends as possible into it and drive them around town.

She also remembers the VW buses, the first version of a van that she remembers people driving around, and which came in fun varieties, including one that was a camper with a pop-up roof. You still see those buses around sometimes, especially in California, Atkins said.

In the 1970s, Jack Moses moved the dealership to the area where it is today. He shaved off the top of a hillside and put the Volkswagen dealership atop the hill. On the lower section is where his friend, Bill Turnbull, built a new Chrysler dealership and where Moses put his General Motors dealership. Volkswagen later moved eastward to 6018 U.S. 60, and moved back to the 5200 block of U.S. 60 just two years ago after completion of the new Moses Honda Volkswagen dealership.

Getting the two separate manufacturers to agree to be in an adjoined facility took quite a bit of time and architectural creativity, Atkins said Thursday as she gave a tour of the dealership. Each manufacturer had creative control over the decor of their respective ends of the building. The two separate sides are joined in the middle by a "delivery area," where cars that are about to be driven off the lot sit while the customers wrap up their purchase.

Manufacturers are particular and want a free-standing building, but after a year, Honda and Volkswagen agreed to Moses' design, she said. The interior of the Volkswagen end of the building is often compared with an Apple store, Atkins said, adding that Volkswagen chooses everything from each tile on the floor to the small, square lights on the ceiling.

The new building "has been great for us. I think customers like it because it's quiet and clean," she said. The dealership has 35 employees.

Volkswagen sales had died down for some years, but surged back in 1998 with the rebirth of the Beetle, Atkins said. It was expected that younger female drivers would be the target market, but many of the cars were being snapped up by women old enough to remember the original Beetles. It was that resurgence of the Beetle that set Volkswagen sales off again, she said. A lot of people come in with a story about a Beetle they had years ago.

"It's always great to see them come back," Atkins said. "They've been back, but they've now gotten even better in quality and design. They're unique. They have a tight, German feel. You feel the road more. When you take a curve, it's quick and responsive."

Today, the best-selling Volkswagen model at Moses is actually the Jetta, Atkins said.

"It's a good size, it's affordable," she said. "It's a great dependable car -- not too small, not too big. Great diesel engine."

The Passat also is popular, and was the 2012 Motor Trend Car of the Year, she said. Other models sold at Moses include the Golf, GTI and some sport utilities.

Working with a German manufacturer means staying on top of things, she said.

"They have very high standards."