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Clarkston Auto back with latest tech



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Chuck Fortinberry’s Clarkston Auto off Dixie Highway now converts and sells wheelchair-accessible minivans. Photos by Phil Custodio (click for larger version)
November 10, 2010 - Clarkston Motors is back in business. The former Chrysler dealership now converts and sells minivans modified for wheelchair access.

"I'm really excited about the potential," said Chuck Fortinberry, CEO. "We looked at long-term sustainability, future market growth potential in a variety of customer service focused industries, and this is a great fit."

The dealership closed last year as part of Chrysler's restructuring agreement with the federal government. Fortinberry participated in arbitration with Chrysler and reached a settlement with them this past June, details sealed in a confidentiality agreement.

He acquired Autovan company of Battle Creek in August, opening it as Automobility last September at his 8105 Big Lake Road facility.

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"The plan is to take an industry with a good history and give it a great future," he said. "Clarkston Motors always has focused on offering excellent customer service while providing high quality products at the most competitive prices possible."

With nine employees so far, including former Automobility technicians, former Clarkston Motors employees, and sons Lane and Cameron Fortinberry, they convert Chrysler, Dodge, Toyota, and Volkswagen minivans.

"We're improving every day," Chuck Fortinberry said. "We'll eventually add another 10 employees."

The process includes cutting a 35-inch-wide opening in vehicles' frame and installing a 34-inch-wide ramp for wheelchairs and scooters, the widest in the market.

Conversion is in the facility's state of the art, 30,000-square-foot body shop. The ramp allows wheelchair users easy access to the vehicle, and a built in restraint system secures them safely.

The quality-focused conversion process was planned and installed by Ray Waechter, industrial engineer with over 35 years of production planning experience at General Motors, Fortinberry said.

They'll sell completed vehicles in the showroom.

They're also working on new ideas in vehicle accessibility, including side access for wheelchairs, as well as front access, which would allow those in wheelchairs to drive, with modified controls.

Converted minivans, installed with the steel-frame, metal-alloy-shell ramps, passed 50 mph rear-end crash tests. They are the first of its kind on the market to meet ADA standards.

Clarkston Motors also offers auto body and collision repair, as well as pre-owned vehicle sales. Over the past 25 years, the business generated over $500 million in revenue.

For more information, 248-620-4200 check www.autoability.com.

Phil is editor for The Clarkston News. He is a veteran of the first Iraq war, having served in the U.S. Army.
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