Accelerating On Import Street

Fairhurst expands dealership despite slowing economy

To combat the auto industry’s decline in sales, Ellenae Fairhurst added a Lexus dealership to her Dodge and Infiniti fleet.

“The high-end imports have been doing much better than domestic cars in these depressed times,” says Fairhurst, CEO of Huntsville Dodge (No. 95 on the 2001 BE AUTO DEALER 100 list with $29 million in sales). “It’s purely economics. People who buy high-end luxury cars have more disposable income overall.”

To accommodate the expansion, Fairhurst had three new buildings constructed to house each brand separately. In April, the new Huntsville, Alabama-based facilities opened as Huntsville Autoplex.

Jeff Beddow, spokesman for the National Automobile Dealers Association (NADA), said that industry projections indicate that more than 16.5 million units will be sold this year–a 5.45% drop from the 17.4 million units sold last year. Beddow, however, remains optimistic. “This still is expected to be the third best year in history.”

Fairhurst wouldn’t estimate how much being the only Lexus dealer in a 90-mile radius of Huntsville will help sales, but she predicts a high return.

“Each dealership is a separate profit center. The addition of Lexus certainly will add a significant profit increase,” says Fairhurst, who is the only female African American Lexus dealer.

Eight years ago, not a single import automaker offered development programs to minorities, according to the NADA. After national boycotts and pressure by members of the Congressional Black Caucus, progress is still slow.

There are now nine minority dealers out of 170 Lexus dealerships. Other dealerships are also showing modest gains. There are 33 minority Honda/ Acura dealers out of 1,257. Nissan’s Infiniti has 10 minorities out of 154. There are 24 minority dealers out of 340 for BMW. Most of these minority dealers are either African American or Hispanic, according to the NADA.

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