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The steel factory is lit up at night near a Chevy dealer in Bethlehem, PA.

SteelStacks and Chevys

When one thinks of Chevy, they’re likely to think of Detroit. And when one thinks of Detroit, they just might think of steel. But ask anyone in Bethlehem, PA, and you’ll find a far more accurate and intimate understanding of the steel industry. One that remains tangible in the Empire State Building, Hoover Dam, Golden Gate Bridge, Chrysler Building, George Washington Bridge, and Madison Square Garden (just to name a few). Intrinsic to the community as a whole, the Bethlehem Steel Company can still be felt locally and globally. It’s almost ironic that – with so many Pennsylvanians looking for a Chevy dealer in Bethlehem, PA, Raceway Chevy now ranks as one of the premier destinations.

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves

Thinking Back

When I think of Bethlehem, I think of the first time I wandered onto the ten-acre SteelStacks campus. Today, it’s the product of tens-of-millions-of-dollars in investments hosting thousands (yes, thousands) of performances and festivals, enriching the community through culture and the arts. But my visit to SteelStacks fell in between the last furnace blasting of 1995 and the grand opening of the entertainment venue in 2011. To be specific, it was July 2006, and I was returning to Massachusetts from Maryland in a ’04 Chevy Colorado. Having been familiar with the history, and having seen the recognizable silhouette of the furnaces in photo form, I wanted to see it for myself… and I’m glad I did. At the risk of being trite, it felt genuinely ‘historical,’ even to an outsider.

Nearly a decade later I would return to SteelStacks (behind the wheel of that same Colorado) to attend Musikfest. I was taken by both the intent and effort visible in the overhaul of the campus but still found myself overwhelmed by those storied furnace towers looming over me as the music played. Sometimes, when I listen to The Avett Brothers, sense memory takes over, and I find myself picturing the silhouette of those towers against an orange sky. It truly was a moment of zen…soothing…pensive… and then, on the way to the hotel, the alternator on my truck decided to sh*t the bed, and all the calm was gone. But with some help from a local dealership called Chevy 21, I was ready to get back on the road and head home without too much of a delay.

In hindsight, there was nothing (good or bad) that stood out in my mind about the Chevy 21 experience. I was satisfied with the work done, the speed at which it was done and found the finished cost to be reasonable. Which who’s kidding, the cost of the repairs is what everyone truly worries about when going to a mechanic.  I think the one thing that stood out for me was their offering of a ‘Tires for Life’ program, and how it inspired some mental calculations on my part. I continue to struggle to see how such a program could be profitable.

Hello to the New Owner

A grey 2019 Chevy Silverado is on the other side of glass windows at night.

Flash forward another five years and (while I’ve long since retired that Colorado) I’m employed as an automotive journalist and blogger. It was earlier this summer when, headphones on, I was researching an article while ‘Head Full of Doubt’ (by The Avett Brothers) played quietly in the background. That article was regarding the newest acquisition made by the Burlington Auto Group which just so happened to be the former Chevy 21 in Bethlehem PA. (Freaky, right?)

The ‘new’ dealership/service center, as of its June 10th opening, goes by the name Raceway Chevrolet of Bethlehem. Named for New Jersey’s Freehold Raceway, it’s more than a simple name change; it’s an entire overhaul of business model. Backed by the expansive inventory reach of the Burlington Auto Group, it means a far more extensive selection than I ever saw on that lot back in July of 2006. One visit to the website depicts hundreds of brand-new cars, trucks, crossovers, and SUVs to choose from – an equally diverse selection of pre-owned options, as well as dozens of high-quality GM Certified Pre-Owned vehicles. It’s a promising start, but the promise of that expanded reach is what really seals the deal on an effective rebranding.

And I don’t mean any offense to the Chevy 21 team; there’s just bound to be an appreciable improvement based on what I saw back then. And despite there being no signs of aggressive competition within a 30-mile radius, Bethlehem car buyers interested in a new or used Chevy should feel very comfortable with the scope of options available to them. Customers want to see a dealer that has a vast selection of Chevy cars from new and used, that they can choose from.

What the Customers Want, and Need

On an added note, you can imagine my surprise when I read that Raceway had opted to carry-over the ‘Tires for Life’ program previously offered by Chevy 21. I mean, seriously, I’m still trying to work out the math on that one. Apparently, the team at Burlington Auto Group believes that the program (which seems like an instant liability on their part) can be an asset if appropriately managed. It’s believed that by servicing all of their customer’s needs (including tires), the dealership has the potential of retaining up to 85% of clientele across the life of their vehicle. That said, it certainly works in favor of the customers, as well as offering some considerable savings.

Even with carried-over programs, the operation sounds quite different from the one I’d witnessed firsthand just a few years back. Almost poetically, it reminded me of the difference between my first and second visits to SteelStacks. It’s amazing what some time, though, and investment can achieve.

But if you’re interested in doing business with the newest and most promising Chevy dealership in the area — don’t get too comfortable with the Raceway name. According to Vice President Jake Lebowitz, there is the talk of a new ‘umbrella name’ designed to unite Raceway Chevy with their sister dealerships Allentown, Raceway and Turnersville Kia, Burlington Chevrolet, Kia, and Volkswagen as well as other dealerships that Burlington is looking to acquire in the Lehigh Valley/Southern New Jersey area. In terms of auto group naming, ‘Raceway’ is already spoken for, so don’t be surprised if further branding changes are made in the near future.

If you ask me, I think ‘SteelStack Auto Group’ has a nice ring to it, but in all fairness, it might just be the sense memory talking. Damn you, Avett Brothers for searing that silhouette into my mind.

Despite today’s odd exercise in cyclical thinking, there’s little point in arguing the benefits of capital investment within any area. No matter which way you look at it, it’s good for the community, local economy, and it’s good for the consumer. Just as it was great to return to Bethlehem and experience the large-scale payoff of investments into SteelStack, it’s also great to see someone come in – recognize a struggling business – and commit to making it a success. That said, if Matt, the Chevy 21 tech that helped me out by installing that new alternator a few years back, is still working for Raceway – please give him my best.

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