Ryan Wuerflein, left, and Dave Christensen lean on a maroon Honda Odyssey on Friday. Many Albert Leans think of Buick and GM products when they think of Motor Inn, but the Honda line is the dealership’s biggest seller. There are only about 1,000 Honda dealers in the United States. -- Tim Engstrom/Albert Lea Tribune

Archived Story

Motor Inn Co. to have new owner in 3 years

Published 10:29am Monday, February 4, 2013

In three years, Motor Inn Co. of Albert Lea will have a new owner.

Dave Christensen, 58, has agreed to sell his Honda, Buick and GMC auto dealership to a man who entered the dealership 10 years ago to buy a car and ended up with a job.

Ryan Wuerflein, 32, ended up working on the Motor Inn’s website and doing some sales work back in August 2002. Now he is the general manager and has been instrumental in implementing a real-time pricing strategy based on the regional market.

The agreement, which began Dec. 28, transitions the dealership to Wuerflein from Christensen over the course of three years. By 2016, Wuerflein will be the dealer.

“This way,” Christensen said during an interview in his office, “it gives him a chance to get in here and get things set the way he wants it.”

In the meantime, Wuerflein will attend the National Association of Automobile Dealers academy for new dealers in Virginia. Christensen declined to give the sale price.

Motor Inn is 105 years old, the oldest dealership in Freeborn County.

Christensen took ownership of the business in 1995 from his father, Howard Christensen. He became the owner in 1962 and relocated it to its existing location, 2114 E. Main St., in 1972 and added little-known Honda in 1976. Dave Christensen’s grandfather, Elmer Matthies, brought Motor Inn into the family in 1939, when he purchased the local Buick franchise from Dr. Albert Watland, a dentist who began Motor Inn back in 1908. Today, Honda is the dealership’s biggest seller.

Dave Christensen said the dealership is leaving his family because he never had children and has no next generation to pass it to.

Albert Leans likely recognize the Wuerflein name from his father, Cliff, who owns an American Family Insurance agency at 1907 E. Main St.

Christensen said he likes that the dealership will remain with a local owner and not part of a chain. He said he cares about the 38 employees and said a chain might bring a reduction of staff.

“I want the transition to be seamless,” he said. “This place has been my life, and you want to see it succeed.”

Calling the sale a “great opportunity,” Wuerflein said he and Christensen have worked on the arrangements for more than six months.

The automobile industry is changing, Wuerflein said. People are willing to travel farther to purchase cars and some are willing to purchase cars sight unseen if the price is right. The World Wide Web has changed who a dealer reaches.

He said buyers and dealers have more equal footing going into sales, so dealers have done more to provide buyers with clear information.