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Betts to expand after adding new auto models


Betts, the luxury automobile dealer, is planning a large expansion that will add a third more showroom space and nearly two dozen service bays, a year after it began adding more automobile nameplates to its roster.

The 56-year-old dealership expects to break ground on a new 25,000-square foot showroom on land it owns along Hickman Road just east of 100th Street in Clive within the next 30 days, according to owner and President Rich Willis.

For years, Betts sold only automobiles made by General Motors Corp.’s Cadillac division and Toyota Corp.’s Lexus brand. Last year, the dealership began selling General’s Hummer vehicles. In October, it acquired the local Jaguar franchise from Ford Motor Co., and in November bought the right to sell Volvo models from European Motorcars, a rival dealership.

By adding the Hummer, Volvo and Jaguar lines, Betts is reaching out to a much wider market than it previously reached. With the exception of the CTS and Escalade models, Cadillacs tend to appeal to older buyers. Cars made by Lexus are popular with a slightly broader demographic.

“We’re bringing in a completely new type of buyer than what we had before,” Willis said.

Volvos tend to be popular with families and drivers who are concerned about safety, while Jaguars appeal to individuals with higher net worths than those Betts previously attracted.  

The Hummer SUVs, which include the large H1 and the slightly more road-friendly H2, are attracting younger and more adventurous buyers, Willis said. Sales of the new brands could double Betts’ customer base in five years, he said.

The dealership currently has 58 service bays and a showroom capacity of 12 cars. The new building, which will house models by Jaguar and Volvo, will have space for eight vehicles in two showrooms that will be at opposite ends of the structure. As part of the expansion, Betts will construct 20 new service bays.

The Volvo side of the building will feature blond-colored woods while darker hardwoods will dominate the Jaguar side, Willis said.

A 7,500-square-foot addition dedicated to Hummers will be added near Betts’ Cadillac showroom next year, he said.

The expansion follows a series of renovations and upgrades that Willis has been undertaking over the past seven years. In 1996, the Cadillac showroom was overhauled. Last fall, the dealership unveiled a redesigned showroom for its Lexus models.

Along with the new brands and expected additions, Betts is boosting employment. A year ago, the dealership had about 150 full- and part-time workers. Today, it employs more than 175.


It is a young driver’s dream: the chance to drive one of AM General’s H2s.

In January, Auto Pilots, a driver’s education program, purchased one of the hulking, 6,400-pound go-anywhere vehicles to help attract more students. If learners have good grades and perfect attendance, they are rewarded at the end of the program with some time behind the H2’s wheel.

“If you’re a 16-year-old and had to go to driver’s ed, and you had the opportunity to get your education by driving a Hummer or driving a (Chevrolet) Malibu, where would you go?” said Rich Willis, president and owner of Betts, a Clive auto dealership that sells Hummer models, including the H2.

Auto Pilots first tried to attract students by buying a fleet of PT Cruisers, a retro car made by DaimlerChrysler AG. The strategy appeared to work – attendance has doubled from a year ago – and managers began searching for another popular car model to add. Auto Pilots traditionally has used sedans, including Chevrolet Malibus, Mazda 626s and Ford Tauruses.

Sales of the H2 are proving surprisingly strong in Central Iowa. Betts currently has two dozen in stock and is selling them at a rate of about five per week. It has sold 100 of the vehicles since first becoming a Hummer dealer about a year ago, according to Willis. Sales were limited by availability but supply is now catching up to demand.

“It has a beautiful ride to it,” said Vel Davis, office manager for Auto Pilots Clive location. “It is just like riding in a Cadillac.”     

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