Foreign auto makers tap minority dealers

Jaguar, Nissan put black dealers behind the wheel

After years of talking about adding color to its dealer base, Jaguar is finally on the prowl. David Stephens, owner of Falls Lincoln-Mercury in Wichita Falls, Texas, is scheduled to open up a Jaguar dealership, Millennium Motor Cars, this spring in Plano, Texas.

Stephens, 47, graduated from the Minority Auto Dealer Development program in 1992, and became a GM dealer a year later. In 1997 his store had sales of $18.2 million. Stephens says he approached Jaguar executives last February to discuss the availability of a dealership.

“They were looking for someone who had good experience and was proven in this business,” says Stephens.

“Stephens knowledge and his strong record of customer satisfaction were elements that we were looking for,” says Mark Miller, vice president of corporate and public affairs at Jaguar Cars. Stephens acknowledges there’ll be a lot of pressure that goes with being the company’s first African American dealer—but he also views it as an opportunity. “There’ll be a great deal of focus on us as we get started. Other potential prestige dealers may view this as a positive if we do it right or as a negative if we do it wrong.”

In other auto dealer news: talk about karma. Two years after Nissan moved to terminate the dealership contract of a dealer videotaped using racial slurs against an employee, that same dealership was sold to African American car dealer T.J. Johnson. The new store , in Newport News, Virginia, will be called Tidewater Nissan.

“T.J. has an outstanding track record of fairness toward customers and employees,” says Mike Seergy, vice president and general manager of Nissan Division. “Nissan couldn’t have asked for a better dealer for this key location.”

Johnson, 48, becomes the first African American appointed since Nissan recently announced an initiative to increase its minority dealer base by 25% by the year 2002.

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