The septuagenarian owner of the multifranchise dealership group that bears his name bore the torch for embattled dealers in the late 1980s when the Detroit 3 were pinching dealer profits. His fierce speeches and use of the national media sought to defend dealers' bottom lines.
During his one-year chairmanship of the National Automobile Dealers Association beginning in February 1989, he railed against manufacturers' fleet subsidies, retail rebates, cost transfers and mandatory advertising association memberships. In founding a group of dealers called the Rough Riders, he encouraged dealers to resist manufacturers trying to jam excess inventories down their throats.
Company: Ron Tonkin Family of Dealerships, Portland, Ore.
Brilliant idea: Using NADA as a bully pulpit for dealer rights
Tonkin also has put the "family" in the Ron Tonkin Family of Dealerships. Sons Ed and Brad have operated the franchises since Ron stepped back after a prostate cancer scare in the mid-'90s.
Following in his father's footsteps, Ed Tonkin will take over as NADA chairman in 2010.
"I don't know if I'd be good at anything else," Ron Tonkin said in a 1996 interview, "But I do know that I can turn a dealership around, get it selling cars, get it making money again."
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