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My Whaling City car dealership won't honor free tires promotion

There are times when I really miss Richard Blumenthal as Connecticut's attorney general.

This is one of them, as I ponder the fresh injustice served on consumer William Petrone of New London, who's been buying cars from the My Whaling City Ford and Mazda dealership for more than 40 years.

Petrone wrote to me recently to explain how the new owners of the dealership have failed to honor a commitment made when he bought his 2013 Mazda 3, one of about a dozen cars he's purchased at the dealership at Broad and Colman streets in New London.

He told me he kept up his part of the 2013 promotion, having paid for all required maintenance on the car over the years in the dealer's service department. But the new Whaling City owner told him recently he wasn't going to honor the commitment to replace the tires on the Mazda 3, which needs them, with more than 80,000 miles on the odometer.

The new owner would not honor the Free Tires & Brakes For Life commitment for any of the customers who still qualify, Petrone said he was told.

"He was very arrogant about it," he added.

I'm quite sure that if Blumenthal were still attorney general and I put a call in to his office to report the treatment of Petrone by the New London dealership, he would have personally returned my call.

Honestly, I know it's hard to imagine, but former Attorney General Blumenthal returned every single reporter's phone call and personally fielded questions about any topic. Sometimes the return call from the attorney general came late in the night, but it always came.

In this case, I know that Blumenthal would have been offended by an obvious injustice to a consumer and would have promised to get to the bottom of it. I am as sure of this as I am of the sun coming up tomorrow.

To be fair to the current attorney general, William Tong, I don't, and I don't think most other old Connecticut reporters like myself, expect press calls to be personally returned by the chief legal officer for the state.

And I must say that a Tong spokesperson did indeed show an interest in the complaint, asked for details and suggested Petrone could reach out to their office for help, in all a professional response.

Still, I miss the Blumenthal chest-thumping and ready promises to right all consumer wrongs.

The Tong spokesperson did explain that the issue with the dealership honoring the tire promotion requires "drilling down" to determine whether the new owner bought the business or merely its assets.

I did reach the new owner, Filippo Marchionne of Westerly, who was polite but firm about not honoring the tire promise. Petrone told me Marchionne told him there were a large number of customers still participating in the tire promotion, though the dealership owner told me there were only a few left.

He made it clear that his acquisition was an "asset purchase" and that he was not bound by the previous dealer owner's commitments.

That may be true to the letter of the law. He did change the official name of the business from Whaling City Motors to Whaling City Motor Group.

However, the dealership has clearly continued to trade on the goodwill of a business that has been a landmark on New London's car dealer row for generations. Who wouldn't know it wasn't the same business?

Indeed, the address for the dealership's website is still mywhalingcity.com, the exact same name that appears on Petrone's tires for life certificate.

When Marchionne was interviewed last year about his purchase of the dealership, a picture of the founder of the company was prominent in his office and he boasted about how he's only changed "a few small things." Whaling City is still the marquee name displayed out front.

"Reputation is everything to us," he said in that interview. "It takes a lifetime to build a reputation and only 10 minutes to ruin it."

He might have that right.

I might not be able to hope for Blumenthal-like enthusiasm for consumer issues from Attorney General Tong. But I can wish for thorough due diligence and a way to right an obvious consumer wrong.

This is the opinion of David Collins.

d.collins@theday.com

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