At 8:21 a.m. on an overcast friday, Ed Fitzpatrick is putting his black 2006 BMW M5 through its paces while driving to a breakfast meeting at his country club in Modesto, California. “You need to feel the full experience,” he says, pushing a button on the dashboard. In a split second, the seven-speed sedan accelerates dramatically. As he decelerates, Fitzpatrick listens to the soft, purring sound of the electronically-controlled engine downshifting automatically. He fires up a Cohiba cigar and takes a long drag on the stogie. “I just love cars,” he says, exhaling billows of thick smoke.
Fitzpatrick, 64, is a luxury import car dealer with an irrepressible entrepreneurial drive. That drive also comes in the form of a 70-minute commute along the scenic highways connecting Oakland and Modesto, the prime locations for the four luxury car franchises that make up his Fitzpatrick Dealership Group: Coliseum Lexus of Oakland, Valley BMW, Valley Lexus, and Valley Infiniti in Modesto.
Fitzpatrick epitomizes the nimble players within the luxury import sector who are capturing a bigger share of a car market already slipping away from the struggling Big Three.
Spurred by a strong consumer demand for luxury cars, the company took in revenues of $141 million last year, a 12.8% increase over 2004 sales. Fitzpatrick is setting high-growth benchmarks through stronger ties with his manufacturers, efficient use of technology to enhance his customers’ car-buying experience, and leveraging an effective national marketing and branding strategy. Based on this command performance, BLACK ENTERPRISE named Fitzpatrick Dealership Group our 2006 Auto Dealer of the Year.
It was a good 2005 for Fitzpatrick Dealership Group (No. 14 on the BE AUTO DEALER 100 list), and Fitzpatrick continues to reap the rewards of offering three of the industry’s best-selling luxury imports: Lexus, BMW, and Infiniti.
All three brands reported record sales last year. Toyota’s Lexus remained the top-selling luxury car in the U.S. for the sixth straight year with 302,895 units sold, up 5.2% over 2004. BMW sales were up 4% with 197,833 automobiles sold plus sport utilities. Nissan’s Infiniti division celebrated its best calendar-year sales ever in 2005 with 136,401 units, up 4.1%.
For Fitzpatrick, selling these luxurious rides started in 1997, when he launched Valley Lexus, the first of his four franchises, in Modesto. At the time, the city offered the diversity and facilities of a metropolis but still maintained the atmosphere of a rural farming community-an uncertain environment for a seller of luxury vehicles.
“A lot of people in the car industry didn’t have confidence in this area’s small market,” says Sheila Vaden-Williams, president of the National Association of Minority Automobile Dealers (NAMAD). “I don’t think they saw the whole picture or understood how hard Ed was willing to work to make sure his business was a profitable venture.” Fitzpatrick, whom Vaden-Williams describes as a seasoned dealer, went as far as researching the population and growth trend for California.
As Modesto’s infrastructure matured during the technology boom in nearby Silicon Valley, Fitzpatrick’s dealerships profited. Affluent technology professionals and executives with expensive tastes