EDGEWOOD, Iowa — What began as a request for additional vehicles for the sales lot ended with the closure of one of the oldest remaining Ford dealerships in the United States.
Tom Forkenbrock, owner of Welterlen Motors in Edgewood, announced the closure of his dealership, effective Nov. 3.
Forkenbrock sold his Ford franchise back to Ford Motor Company, which then closed the dealership.
Forkenbrock, who purchased Welterlen Motors from F. Day and Donna Welterlen in 1991, said discussions with Ford began nearly two months ago.
“I called Ford to discuss the non-availability of vehicles for our dealership,” he explained. “We weren’t able to get enough of them. It escalated from that discussion to them giving us the option of putting in charging stations for electric vehicles.”
Forkenbrock said even if he put in the charging stations, his supply of electric vehicles to offer customers would be limited.
“They told me for the first two years I would get virtually no vehicles because 90% of the electric vehicle allocations were going to the east and west coasts.”
Forkenbrock said getting the vehicles his customers want has been an ongoing issue.
“Ever since COVID when supply issues began, we really weren’t able to get the vehicles we needed. If you drive by dealer lots right now, they have vehicles on them, but they aren’t really what they need, but what companies can produce with the products they have now.”
Forkenbrock said he believed a strike by the United Auto Workers (UAW) added to the company’s inability to provide him with vehicles.
“After I was told the supply chain was going to be an issue for a couple years, we could both see they couldn’t supply me with enough vehicles, and that’s when I told them we needed to talk.”
The sale of the franchise closes a dealership that began in 1915, with Welterlen Motors first purchasing their Ford vehicles from a dealership in Greeley before opening the Edgewood dealership in 1917.
Forkenbrock believes what led to the closure of Edgewood is a sign of things to come for small dealerships.
“Right now, everything is pushed toward the internet. With us, a person could come in and, between the two of us, we discussed what they wanted. Now Ford is starting to simplify the ordering situation of a vehicle where there aren’t as many options and everything is standard. They want you to order online. All of these dealerships are going to become distribution centers. They won’t tell you that right now, but the handwriting is on the wall.”
Forkenbrock said the reason his dealership was successful for so long is because of the personal approach he took with customers.
“I personally knew 90% of the customers. Not only did I know them, but I knew their families.”
Forkenbrock retains the buildings and property and said he’s not sure what is next for the location.
He said the seven employees at the dealership have all found different jobs.
“I want to thank all the customers we have had over the years. I grew up in Edgewood and it’s been very enjoyable. I felt I knew a lot of people and had a good relationship with them.”