C P Stephens DeSoto Dealership

C.P. Stephens DeSoto Six Motor Building was one of the longest operating dealers on Phoenix’s automotive-row. Construction was finished on C.P. Stephens’ building in 1928, the same year that the DeSoto brand is created, and the same year Stephens opened his DeSoto dealership. Stephens’ dealership was one of the more successful automotive dealerships along auto-row as it operated in the same location for more than 25 years and is one of the last dealerships to operate on Phoenix’s auto-row before relocating to be closer to its customer base.

Stephens’ success with his auto dealership in downtown Phoenix’s auto-row is not only due to the popularity of the DeSoto brand just in Arizona but around the country as a whole. DeSoto broke sales records in its first year of production, a contributing factor to the success of Stephens’ dealership is also in part due to his used car lot which is located a few blocks away from his auto-row DeSoto dealership. In 1929, supply exceeded demand for new automobiles, which allowed for the rise around the country for used car dealerships to be increasingly popular as “dealers were handling more used than new cars.” Stephens took out ads in newspapers almost daily to promote not only the newest and best vehicles DeSoto and Plymouth had to offer. However, Stephens mainly took out ads to promote his used car business which offered all brands of automobiles for increasingly affordable prices. Stephens even offered vehicles for as low as $150 in 1930 at his “big downtown used car lot,” today that $150 would be worth only $2,000, showing just how attainable a vehicle is to the lower-middle class residents of Phoenix from his used car lot .

The DeSoto brand is created by its parent company Chrysler in 1928, which is near the same time that Chrysler purchased their former rival, Dodge Brothers. The DeSoto brand was created to fill a gap between the low-end dodge vehicles and the high-end Chrysler vehicles. In 1929 the new DeSoto model sold for $845, and set a new automobile inaugural year model sales record, selling more than 80,000 vehicles in the United States--a figure that would not be beat until 1960 when the Ford Falcon sold over 85,000 units. The DeSoto brand became increasingly popular not only in Arizona but throughout the U.S. as time went on. In 1928 it was ranked the 15th most sold automotive brand in the U.S., by 1929 it had surpassed automotive giants such as Hudson and was ranked number 12 most sold automotive brand. During the 1930’s, the DeSoto brand was at a high of 9th most sold vehicles and a low of 14th.

Throughout the prewar period, DeSoto is praised as being an affordable, reliable and a relatively inexpensive option with the amenities of a high-end automobile. Its new “Airflow” design in the mid-30’s inspired European automotive brands such as Volvo, Peugeot, Volkswagen and even Japanese Toyoda, now known as Toyota. Such influential design cues are its aerodynamic front end, rounded body-style and spacious interior. The DeSoto Airflow was first shown at the Chrysler pavilion at the Chicago World’s Fair, it is seen as one of the most beautiful designs of an affordable American vehicle, unfortunately sales did not reflect this, with only 13,940 units sold during its initial year. DeSoto was the perfect brand of automobile for the Phoenix area as it is a modern designed vehicle, affordable to the middle-class yet offered a greater sense of luxury than its competitors.

The Second World War drew military operations, personnel, and contractors to the Phoenix area, Stephens used this opportunity to buy and sell autos to these servicemen and contractors that flooded the region. He puts out advertisements in newspapers such as the Arizona Republic offering incentives to his new customer base with tailored promotions like his “WAR Transportation Sale” at the beginning of the war. With incentives such as“If you plan on leaving soon, we will buy your car at top price and permit you to use the car until you leave” by the end of the war. These sales tactics were very successful for the dealership, and those that could not afford a new DeSoto would be referred to his used car lot just a few blocks away. By the 1950’s, both the DeSoto brand and Stephens’ dealership were still booming in sales, yet increased diversification and poor management within the Chrysler company caused the death of the DeSoto brand in 1960 as Chrysler could not economically justify updating the brand.

Stephens’ success was in part due to the popularity of the DeSoto brand in Arizona, and in part due to his own business tactics of good and persistent advertising to his customer base, being middle and lower-middle class Phoenicians. Stephens eventually moved his dealership to VanBuren Avenue in Phoenix in 1954, following the trend of other dealerships that attempted to once again be closer to their customer base as they were in the early years of Phoenix’s automotive-row. What was known as auto-row in downtown Phoenix is now simply central avenue, it is home to the Phoenix Central Library, civic spaces, and modern art inspired bars and restaurants. The DeSoto Building remained an auto-related building until 1975 when it became an antique store then remained vacant for a number of years until it became a hip marketplace. It is now under renovation to become a bar, and set to open by the end of 2019 according to the owner of the property.

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