Auto slump hits hard in car-mecca California

The Saturn dealership, closed two weeks ago, is still jammed with cars; signs at the curb promote a red-tag sale. The Ford dealership, closed since June, sits empty, stripped clean.

These are terrible times for the auto industry, and the impact shows up at places such as the Elk Grove Auto Mall. Sales are down, staffing is down, and the loss of two dealerships hurts the survivors.

"It doesn't help the image of the auto mall to have two tenants gone," said David Johnson, general sales manager at Elk Grove Buick Pontiac GMC. "It doesn't help with consumer confidence."

Johnson has cut his sales staff in half, eliminating six jobs.

The crisis gripping Detroit's Big 3 automakers is worsening the downturn in California and Sacramento. As executives plead for a bailout, car sales are falling faster in California than elsewhere, and the effect is significant.

The industry's downfall is responsible for nearly 11 percent of California's job loss in the past year. It's robbed tens of millions of dollars from state and local treasuries. It's punched holes in business districts such as Florin Road, once a mecca for car lots. It's deprived the media of advertising revenue, and has affected corporate sponsorship of sports franchises such as the Kings.

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