Edmund Marquez Suzuki — Tucson's only new-car dealership south of 22nd Street and the only one started by a Mexican American — closed this week.

Owner Edmund Marquez, 35, said the nearly two-year-old dealership at 702 W. Irvington Road was a casualty of the economy, but not necessarily the lack of demand the overall auto industry is suffering.

"We were doing 30 to 40 new Suzukis (cars and SUVs) a month. We were in the Top 10 on the West Coast for Suzuki," Marquez said of sales up until the last couple months.

Just two months ago Marquez told the Arizona Daily Star the fledgling dealership was doing well, in part because of the high gas prices. He said the fuel-efficient Suzukis were moving off the lot briskly, although he was starting to see some reluctance of banks to approve loans.

But since then, Marquez said, auto loan availability has all but dried up — and so have sales.

"We're just making the conscious decision to close it down and cut our losses. Our new-car (sales) got down to about eight a month." Even at that rate, Marquez said, "we were still producing in the Top 15 in the West Coast."

Marquez said he isn't filing for bankruptcy protection. Two Tucson new-auto dealerships have been subject to filings for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in the last six months: Wildcat Mitsubishi, 5200 E. Speedway, and Beaudry RV, 3200 E. Irvington Road. Wildcat, whose parent company filed for bankruptcy, has closed; Beaudry remains open, operating under bankruptcy.

He said a recent customer is a good example of the problems the dealership has suffered. A man who had retired from a military career with a solid, guaranteed income couldn't get a loan for a new Suzuki SUV.

"It took me five different banks," Marquez said Wednesday, sitting in the empty office in the dealership's empty parking lot, as he waited for his attorneys to arrive for a meeting.

"His debt-to-income ratio was off by about 5 percent," Marquez said.

Not long ago, that wouldn't have mattered. But recently, he said, the tightened money availability has chased off the customers he did have despite the economic downturn. Marquez said a credit union finally came through with a loan for that customer.

His dealership, which opened in early 2007, was built on a used-car dealership he started 8 1/2 years ago. And Marquez said used-car sales had remained strong, roughly matching new-car sales after the Suzuki dealership opened.

But automakers require that dealers meet certain standards for their facilities, and Marquez said the new showroom he was building was another blow. He said construction price increases, particularly for steel, during the project dramatically raised costs.

Tucson's only other Suzuki dealer, Royal Suzuki, 4333 E. Speedway, will honor valid Suzuki warranties held by Edmund Marquez customers, said Royal Group General Manager and Vice President Steve Lace.

Lace said Marquez's dealership didn't seem to cut into Royal's sales — Royal had already been selling Suzukis for several years when the South Side dealership opened.

"Because of his location he was tapping into a market that was pretty well underserved at that time," Lace said.

Lace declined to provide his dealership monthly sales figures, and he said it was his impression that Tucson banks and credit unions were not as reluctant to make auto loans as institutions in many other markets.

Royal has three showroom locations, also selling Buick, Land Rover, Hummer, Jaguar, Lexus and Kia.

Despite closing his namesake dealership, Marquez said he's still optimistic about doing business in Tucson.

"We own an Allstate Insurance agency that's been in the family for 40 years," Marquez said.

He said insurance sells, even during a downturn. And he said the warm reception he got from the community suggests he has a business future in Tucson.

"The South Side really embraced us," Marquez said. "I'm still excited; there's still great things happening out there."

● Contact reporter Dan Sorenson at 573-4185 or dsorenson@azstarnet.com.