Trapp continues driving road to longevity

When H.L. Trapp Sr. purchased land on the far reaches of Hollywood Road in 1970, to relocate the downtown Houma Chevrolet dealership he had taken over five years earlier, he envisioned a day when two four-lane routes would intersect at his business.

The founder of Trapp Chevrolet died in 1999, but not before the 72-year-old businessman saw Tunnel and Martin Luther King boulevards meet as a four-lane connection, and talk started about widening the two-lane Hollywood Road.

Today, Trapp Chevrolet, under the leadership of the founder’s son, Heinke Trapp, has grown to be the only full-service Chevrolet dealership in the Tri-parish region.

A fourth-generation auto dealer, Trapp currently has 1,083 new and 686 used vehicles for sale at a complex that includes maintenance and repair, and an onsite body shop.

A new Cadillac lot will open at the end of April on the Martin Luther King Boulevard-side of the dealership. “We want to put Cadillac by itself because Cadillac has a lot of great products coming out in the next five years,” Trapp said. “It needs to stand alone.”

The dealer also revealed that Chevrolet is coming out with a new truck that is expected to wow his mostly half-ton and three-quarter-ton truck-driving customer base.

Trapp said new vehicle changes demonstrate the auto industry’s effort to fully emerge from a few tight years for most of the country.

When General Motors entered Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in 2009, the national economy plunged into a deep recession, but Trapp said sales did not suffer in Terrebonne and Lafourche parishes where unemployment hovered around 4.3 percent during the past two years.

“Houma, Terrebonne, Lafourche is a different animal,” Trapp said. “People work around here. They have resilience. Hurricanes happen and they bounce back from that. Oil spills happen and they bounce back from that. This is a hearty bunch of people. I don’t think they really know what happened in other parts of the country. I don’t think they care what happens in Washington. They focus on here and do not worry about what goes on in the rest of the world. I don’t think they worry about what they can’t control, and I don’t think that is a bad thing.”

The auto dealer explained that passé images of car dealers wearing plaid sports coats and fast-talking customers to get them to sign on the dotted line gets a dose of reality once customers realize that, in today’s car business, a dealership makes on average 1 percent gross margin. “It is a lot of work and there is not as much profit in it as people think,” he said.

With technological changes to contemporary vehicles, a number of available finance packages, rebates, trades, increased industry competition and high tech maintenance and repair equipment, an auto dealer today must be much more professional and educated than many were just 50 years ago.

Trapp views every customer as an individual, with needs and desires different from those who walked on the lot before or after him, because challenges have increased over the years.

“There is still a stigma that American-made cars are not as good as imports,” he said. “I think that is false. American-made cars have come eons in terms of quality. Chevrolet has a wide variety of cars, small cars and high-mileage cars, so our focus is more customer-oriented than it has been before.”

In terms of a future with hybrid, natural gas-powered or electric cars, this dealer said there could be a market, but first there needs to be an infrastructure to successfully support those vehicles and their owners. “It is such a limited market I don’t see it going anywhere right now,” he said. “If you don’t have the infrastructure, the manufacturer can’t produce a vehicle to meet the need.”

In 1965, the Chevrolet Impala was the top-selling car in the United States. Auto sales in 2011 saw the Chevrolet Silverado as the top General Motors product purchased by Americans.

Trapp said there have always been challenges and successes in the auto industry. His family dealership has stood the test of time and he looks forward to what the future might bring – including the widening of Hollywood Road to the four lanes his father envisioned.

Trapp Chevrolet president Heinke Trapp says being in a growing location has been good for business.