Friday, May 26, 2017

Massive fire at Sundance Chevrolet in Grand Ledge, Michigan destroys about 30 vehicles and the used car building

Grand Ledge, Michigan

UPDATE: 12:30 PM

Terry Hanks, owner of Sundance Chevrolet in Grand Ledge, tells News 10 Tuesday that he does plan to rebuild his car dealership. He says the dealership located on Saginaw Highway is open for business. 

The Grand Ledge Fire Department continues to investigate the fire. A cause has not been determined yet.

Stay with and watch News 10 tonight for updates.


We're told that Sundance Chevrolet will be open for business today. They are moving some of their operations to the Fraser building. Grand Ledge Fire Chief Rodney Vandecastelle says no one was injured. The used car building, also known as 'The Log Cabin' is a total loss. 20-30 cars have been damaged or destroyed. The cause of the fire is still under investigation.

Fire crews are on the scene of a large fire at the Sundance Chevrolet car dealership in Grand Ledge. A general manager for the dealership tells News 10 the used car building caught fire around 11:30 Wednesday night. 

He says the building is likely a total loss, and 20-30 cars have been damaged or destroyed. Saginaw Highway between Nixon Rd. and Charlevoix Dr. remains closed down. This is a developing story. Stay with News 10 for updates.


GRAND LEDGE, MI - A large overnight fire Wednesday destroyed an office building and about 30 vehicles at Sundance Chevrolet in Grand Ledge, one of the largest used car dealerships in the country.

The business had reopened by 8 a.m. Thursday. “We are going to make it work," said John Viselli, general manager of the dealership.

Viselli got a call around 11:15 p.m. Wednesday that the bunkhouse was on fire. The building, which held sales offices and resembled a log cabin, was fully engulfed by the time he arrived.

The structure, at 5895 E. Saginaw Highway, was a frequent backdrop in the dealership's well-known commercials. It was built about three years ago in the style of a log cabin lodge, Viselli said.

All that remained Thursday morning was the concrete foundation and a small portion of one wall. Dozens of charred cars lined the structure, and bits of white firefighting foam floated up from the basement.

What remains of an office building at Sundance Chevrolet in Grand Ledge on Thursday, May 25, 2017 after an overnight fire. The fire destroyed an office building and some 30 vehicles at the dealership. Julia Nagy/Lansing State Journal

Nobody was injured in the blaze, Grand Ledge Fire Department Chief Rodney VanDeCasteele said.

The building was fully engulfed in flames when crews arrived, so firefighters took a defensive posture to keep the fire from spreading, he said. They left the scene around 5 a.m.

It will likely take several days to investigate the cause, VanDeCasteele said.

"It’s going to be very meticulous, very slow," he said. "Everything fell into the basement... It will probably be a fairly long, involved ordeal."
'Just another hump in the business'

Terry Hanks, the dealership's colorful 76-year-old owner, already had plans Thursday morning to get moving on a new, improved dealership.

"We sell 25 cars a day," he said, wearing his trademark tan Stetson cowboy hat. "It's just going to be a little tougher."

Hanks, his daughter Terrah Hanks, and a group of Amish carpenters were assessing the damage fewer than 12 hours after fire trucks first arrived. Terry Hanks said he wants to hire up to 18 Amish carpenters from Vermontville to rebuild the structure.

The cause of the overnight fire, as of 10 a.m. Thursday, was unknown and still under investigation, he said.

There was no sprinkler system in the bunkhouse.

"They would have let you run a sprinkler system but it wouldn't have done any good," Hanks said. "When you get a lumbered building like that it's pretty tough, it's pretty tough."

"I don't know how this occurred because (the building) is almost brand new," he said. "It's only two, three years old. It seems like if there was an electrical difficulty that one of the fuses would've went out."

Hanks designed the bunkhouse as a comfortable meeting space for employees and customers, he said. It was also a hub for tracking Sundance's online vehicle auctions.

"Usually you look at a building and you think 'Geez, if I had to do this all over again I do this and that a little bit different," Hanks said. "This (bunkhouse) is what we were looking for, a more comfortable way to buy a car."

"It didn't feel like or look like a dentist office."

The building housed up to 40 workstations for Sundance employees and keys for up to 900 used cars, he said. All were destroyed.

A locksmith was busy making keys for the cars Thursday, as staff members wrote down vehicle identification numbers for those that needed keys.

Key machines that were inside the bunkhouse were "cooked," Hanks said. The dealership can get keys for some General Motors cars from the automaker, but other types of cars, especially imports, don't have replacements unless they are made.

"We've got to see how fast we can get these keys made," Hanks said. "That's going to be one of the bigger messes."

Another challenge for the dealership will be finding — or in some cases copying — titles for nearly 1,000 used vehicles. Hanks said titles were stored in a secured box in the bunkhouse's basement.

Workers were trying to find the box Thursday amidst the rubble.

Colt Hanks, Terry Hanks' 19-year-old son, a sales representative at the dealership, said there's no doubt his father will go all in to get Sundance back to full strength.

Colt Hanks said the dealership has enough room, salespeople and resources to "push on from here no questions asked."

Last year Sundance sold 1,700 used and 5,600 new cars. The "new car" side of the business remains largely unaffected, Terry Hanks said.

"It's just another hump in the business," Hanks said. "If this business was easy everybody would do it. It's something you sure as hell hate to hear. It's a situation where you just got to stop, keep it simple, clean it up and get somebody to rebuild it."

And while the bunkhouse is gone, he said Sundance's colorful commercials will likely shift locales, to the Sundance Riding Stables a few miles away.

Colt Hanks joked with his dad that he probably would have "about 30 one-liners" to use in future commercials.

"My dad is one of those guys who doesn't get fazed too easily," he said. "You can shoot him in the leg and he'll start walking."