SHELLY GARCIA Staff Reporter Toyota of North Hollywood has opened the doors on a $5 million expansion that the dealership says will increase its new-car sales by 50 percent in the coming year. The dealership which sells about $130 million worth of cars a year acquired the former site of the Valley Pontiac/GMC/Buick dealership, adding 56,000 square feet to its operation. The Pontiac dealership relocated to Van Nuys about a month ago. The new lot, which is adjacent to the store’s original new-car showroom and service center, brings the dealership’s total ground space to 200,000 square feet, spread across four showrooms on Lankershim Boulevard. The expansion is one of two such projects underway by dealerships in the neighborhood, where many retailers have long complained that construction on the North Hollywood subway line has robbed them of business. Century West BMW early next year will complete construction of an $8 million expansion on 1.15 acres across the street from its current showroom south of Toyota of North Hollywood. That lot will house a structure with nearly 40,000 square feet of showroom, service and office space and 57,000 square feet of parking and storage space. BMW had formerly operated a used-car showroom on the lot. Officials at Toyota of North Hollywood blame subway construction for a steep drop in business at its former Mazda showroom so steep that in 1995 the company was forced to close the business. They point out that the construction left only one open lane along Lankershim Boulevard, tying up traffic, and the cranes stationed outside the Mazda lot blocked the view of the showroom from the street. But the dealership has since installed a showroom for its certified pre-owned Toyota program meaning used cars sold with a warranty and that business now ranks No. 2 in sales within the Toyota network. “Toyota was a stronger brand (than Mazda),” said Chris Ashworth, vice president and general manager of the dealership, to explain the success of the program despite construction. Ian Hovey, Toyota of North Hollywood’s general sales manager, said he wonders how much additional business the dealership would have had if not for the construction. “It has hurt the business,” Hovey said. “We haven’t expanded at the rate we should have.” Still, in the past five years, the dealership’s sales have grown from 250 cars per month to 500 cars per month, according to Hovey. With the new space, he hopes to reach 750 cars a month. The dealership’s new lot will be devoted to new trucks, sport utility vehicles and vans, with its own offices, accessory shop and 11 service bays. A third facility, located across the street, houses the certified pre-owned Toyotas and a body shop, and a fourth lot, a few blocks south, sells used cars not under warranty. The dealership will add about $2 million worth of inventory as a result of the expansion, boosting the number of new cars it can display to 300. Toyota of North Hollywood was acquired in 1988 by Don Hankey, who also owns Midway Ford in downtown L.A. The dealership last expanded in 1990 when it purchased what is now a four-story building on its current lot to expand its showroom, sales and backroom operations. For a time “we had loads of space,” said Ashworth. “In five years, we outgrew it, and it has hindered our growth, especially in the service department.” The service department, which has been operating with 13 service bays, has been taking in about 100 cars a day, said Tom Foley, service manager. Parts and service revenues average $800,000 per month. The new showroom houses an additional 28 service bays, but Foley said that to begin with, the store will use 11. “Right now we’ll go over there with baby steps,” he said. The dealership expects to add 15 to 20 new employees, including sales, service and office personnel, to handle the increased business.