The Loaded Sticker Price

When it comes to import cars, black dealers still find themselves stranded by the side of the road

stable of prospects. BMW, for example, uses the one-year training program at the National Automobile Dealers Association (NADA) in McLean, Virginia. BMW’s first African American graduate of the program is Gailon McGowen, who worked for two years at BMW Manhattan in New York City after completing his NADA training.

"I think they were looking for someone who had a professional background who could bring something different to the table in how to operate a dealership," says the 39-year-old former attorney. McGowen had no automotive experience prior to his acceptance into the program.

What McGowen did not lack, however, was the nearly 30% capital investment that BMW requires of all its dealer candidates. Since January, he’s been the general manager of Hunterdon BMW, a dealership in affluent Hunterdon County, New Jersey.

Despite the dealership’s potential, the previous owner — Fort Lauderdale, Florida-based Autonation Inc. (formerly Republic Industries), the largest publicly traded auto group in the country — had signed a letter of intent with BMW to sell the location in February 1998. According to industry insiders, Autonation felt the dealership was no longer viable and had decided to let it go. The deal was closed in late December, and McGowen eagerly awaits the day when the dealership will be completely his.

"I’m not the owner yet; we’ve been making some adjustments to the financial statements," says McGowen, who hopes to finalize the deal by the summer. "BMW doesn’t really have a formal minority training program," he asserts, "so it’s sort of by trial and error."

To give its dealer diversity plan an added boost, earlier this year BMW approached Weldon H. Latham, a senior partner at the law firm of Shaw Pittman Potts & Trowbridge of Washington, D.C., to evaluate its initiative and make suggestions. Latham, who last year spearheaded the review of GM’s own MDD program (see "Driving Uphill," Newspoints, November 1998), sees the move as a positive step, pointing out that "if they weren’t serious about diversity, they wouldn’t hire us."

Another car maker that has done an about-face is British importer Jaguar Cars. It formed an 11-member advisory council in 1997 to help improve both its corporate and dealer diversity efforts. Late last year, it tapped David Stephens, 47, dealer/principal and CEO of Falls Lincoln-Mercury in Wichita Falls, Texas, to be the first African American to own a Jaguar dealership.

"David has high customer satisfaction [at his dealership] and has spent a number of years living in Plano, [Texas], so he knew the market quite well," says Steve Odell, vice president of marketing and sales for Jaguar North America in Mahwah, New Jersey.

Stephens’ 21 years of experience in building his luxury Lincoln-Mercury dealership didn’t hurt either (see "Foreign Automakers Tap Minority Dealers," Newspoints, January 1999). The new dealership, Millennium Motor Cars, scheduled to be launched later this year in Plano, has a planning volume of 1.5% of Jaguar’s U.S. sales.

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