Carlsons Motor Sales, one of the city’s oldest car dealerships, is now part of Nucar

Shawn Hanlon (left), president of the New Hampshire and Vermont operations for Nucar, talks with service manager Jeff Brown, sitting atop in a car that needs a new clutch, in the service bay of the new Nucar dealership on Manchester Street on Thursday morning, February 29. Hanlon said the company kept the service department intact when they bought the former Carlson’s Motors specificly because of the excellent service department.

Shawn Hanlon (left), president of the New Hampshire and Vermont operations for Nucar, talks with service manager Jeff Brown, sitting atop in a car that needs a new clutch, in the service bay of the new Nucar dealership on Manchester Street on Thursday morning, February 29. Hanlon said the company kept the service department intact when they bought the former Carlson’s Motors specificly because of the excellent service department. GEOFF FORESTER photos / Monitor staff

Shawn Hanlon (left), president of the New Hampshire and Vermont operations for Nucar, talks with service manager Jeff Brown, sitting atop in a car that needs a new clutch, in the service bay of the new Nucar dealership on Manchester Street on Thursday morning, February 29.

Shawn Hanlon (left), president of the New Hampshire and Vermont operations for Nucar, talks with service manager Jeff Brown, sitting atop in a car that needs a new clutch, in the service bay of the new Nucar dealership on Manchester Street on Thursday morning, February 29. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

Shawn Hanlon, president of the New Hampshire and Vermont operations for Nucar, looks over the truck inventory at the new Nucar dealership on Manchester Street on Thursday, February 28.

Shawn Hanlon, president of the New Hampshire and Vermont operations for Nucar, looks over the truck inventory at the new Nucar dealership on Manchester Street on Thursday, February 28.

By DAVID BROOKS

Monitor staff

Published: 02-29-2024 4:29 PM

Carlson’s Motors, a family firm that in 1937 became one of the first car dealerships in Concord, has been bought by Nucar, a regional company with deep roots in New Hampshire, as part of a continuing trend of consolidation in the industry of auto sales and service.

“Our role is to take the exceptional job the Carlsons did with their service business – they really focused hard on mechanical service – and bring our sales footprint into it. They weren’t focused heavily on sales,” said Shawn Hanlon, president of the New Hampshire and Vermont operations for Nucar. “One of the biggest attractions was their loyal customer base. They have a very robust parts and service business, and people have been doing business there for a long time.”

Nils Carlson began Carlson’s Motor Sales in 1937, selling DeSoto and Plymouth autos. It was Concord’s second car franchise that lasted, after Grappone, according to “Currents of Change,” the Concord Historical Society’s history of the city. It became a Chrysler dealership when that company absorbed DeSoto and Plymouth.

Carlson Chrysler thrived through 2009, when it was run by the father-daughter team of Berger and Holly Carlson, when ongoing financial troubles led Chrysler to declare bankruptcy and cancel hundreds of franchises around the country, including in Concord. This was big news at the time – then-Gov. John Lynch stopped by to commiserate, according to press accounts – but the family continued by switching to used-car sales and service as Carlson Motors. 

Nucar is part of DCD Automotive Holdings, which was founded in 2014 by Dan Dagesse, who started Berlin City Auto Group in Berlin, N.H., and his son, Christopher. The Dagesses were buying auto dealerships in Massachusetts even before the COVID shortages and price spikes threw the industry into turmoil and prodded many independent dealers to sell out. Now they have 25 operations throughout New England plus one in Delaware, most under the Nucar name. That includes the former AutoServ group of dealerships in Tilton, which they bought in 2020. 

Many of the Nucar operations are part of a branded franchise but Concord’s will be a used-car “superstore,” Hanlon said. Nucar has long wanted to be in the Capital City.

“We knew the Carlson family – I was on the board of New Hampshire Auto Dealers with Holly (Carlson),” Hanlon said. “We started a conversation when she indicated she wanted to move on.”

The three-acre site can hold about 100 cars at a time, but being part of Nucar means shoppers have access to used cars throughout its network, Hanlon said. 

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“We share used cars between locations, that’s a huge part of our Concord plan. People can shop the website and see 1,800 to 2,000 used cars for sale. If they’re interested in it, they can have us bring the car to Concord,” he said. 

That ability was valuable in recent years when the supply of used cars dried up as shortages in computer chips clogged the ability of people to buy new cars.

The business of selling and servicing vehicles has been under consolidation for years, as bigger companies have more resources to deal with market changes, including the eventual arrival of electric vehicles. An Automotive News report said the 10 biggest dealership groups had owned about 5% of all new-car sales sites in 2011, while a decade later they owned more than 8% of them. 

Sales of used cars have traditionally been less consolidated than those of new cars but even that is changing due to firms like Carmax.