By JIM PARKER

The Post and Courier

Scouting sites one day, Todd Smith noticed the steady stream of vehicles motoring along U.S. Highway 78 near the Ladson Road intersection.

The McElveen Auto Group vice president quickly realized this could be a suitable new spot for one of the group’s pre-owned vehicle businesses.

To back his intuition, Smith gathered figures showing that 40,000 cars a day passed by the property.

Company owner Doug McElveen quipped that the glowing totals must have factored in waves of motorists headed to and from the recent Coastal Carolina Fair at nearby Exchange Park.

But he, too, knows a prime setting when he sees one.

“We just looked at the traffic,” Smith said.

The car group opened TruAuto used car center Oct. 25, touting a slick blue emblem and sporting dozens of sedans, coupes, SUVs vehicles and pickups on the wide and deep property at 9570 Highway 78. Normal business hours are 8 a.m.-6 p.m. Monday-Saturday. Joel Hopkins, a McElveen Auto Group veteran, is general manager.

“Our goal is to take a lot of the stress out of the car buying experience by creating a friendly, low pressure environment.” McElveen said.

Bearing a new name and image, the facility is technically a relocation of the company’s Credit Country Motors pre-owned car lot. That operation, on Main Street in Summerville near the McElveen Buick GMC new-car dealership and adjacent Truckville center, packed up to make way for Westvaco’s planned Nexton residential village.

Based in upper North Charleston, TruAuto operates out of a 6,000-square-foot building — four times the size of the Credit Country Motors.

The outlet for now will keep 100-130 cars and trucks on the lot at any one time, Smith said. “We would really like to get this up to 150-200 cars in stock,” he said.

Shoppers shouldn’t worry if their favorite model is not on hand: “We can find anybody almost any kind of car, a $50,000 BMW, a $5,000 (model),” he said.

McElveen said the company intends to extend the TruAuto name, logo and its slogan “Driven by Trust.” It’s part of a company branding and marketing move.

“We decided to bring a high level of professionalism to used cars,” McElveen said, sitting with Smith one day this week at a small table in TruAuto’s lobby-showroom.

The Charleston area is home to two corporately owned “buy here pay here” stores, he said. Such ventures focus on drivers with checkered or limited credit histories, designing on-lot financing to help customers build back their borrowing abilities as long as they keep current on car payments.

“They don’t offer the diversification,” he said, adding that TruAuto can supply more flexible financing terms.

Rather than paying $70,000 new, “you can get a one-year-old (Cadillac) Escalade for $45,000,” Smith said, nodding at the SUCV parked outside among a group of vehicles for sale.

Already planned at some point is remaking McElveen-owned Economy Cars of Charleston on Rivers Avenue near the North Charleston Post Office as a second TruAuto outlet.

McElveen said the auto group has historically taken on buyers and helped them build or restore their credit. It is presently working with 1,700 customers on car payments totaling $6 million.

The TruAuto store near high traffic Ladson Road splits space with Lowcountry Credit, a financing arm of McElveen Automotive Group. The company also deals with 20 outside lenders including local and national banks and credit unions.

“It’s about giving the buyer flexibility,” Smith said. “With onsite financing through Lowcountry Credit, and buy here/pay here options, TruAuto can serve the needs of any car buyer. We even report to all three

credit bureaus and can help people restore their credit score,” said Smith, who has served on the National Alliance of Buy Here Pay Here Dealers since 2006.

All told, the center employs 20 people including TruAuto salespeople. Customers can enter a side door to pay bills at an accounting window or they can pay by phone, Smith said.

Tune-ups and other service work is taken care of at McElveen’s new-car Buick GMC operation in Summerville and its Chevrolet dealership in Mount Pleasant.

TruAuto has space to grow on Highway 78. The owners developed less than three acres, or not quite half of the six acre property.

Of the newly badged outlet, Smith said, “It’s got a franchise feel.”

Reach Jim Parker at 937-5542 or jparker@postandcourier.com.