NEW ORLEANS -- Chrysler Group gained more than two dozen minority-owned U.S. dealerships in 2013 and is poised to challenge Toyota's lead in the percentage of its U.S. stores at least partially owned by racial minorities.
Chrysler in 2013 added 42 minority-owned dealerships, but lost 16 through sales or terminations, for a net gain of 26 to 189 total.
That means that 7.3 percent of the automaker's 2,604 rooftops in the United States are at least partially owned by racial minorities, up from 6.3 percent a year ago, said Mitch Mitchell, Chrysler's senior manager for dealer network development operations.
There are 110 minority-owned Toyota, Lexus and Scion dealerships in the United States, out of 1,467 nationally, or 7.5 percent, a spokeswoman for Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A. said.
At the end of 2009, Chrysler had 105 minority-owned dealerships, 4.5 percent of its total.
For several years Chrysler has recruited minority owners and sponsored training and financial programs to encourage minority general managers and executives to buy stores.
Only two of the 26 net new minority dealers took over Fiat stores, with the remaining gains coming from Chrysler-Dodge-Jeep-Ram franchises, Mitchell said. Chrysler has 2,390 Chrysler-Dodge-Jeep-Ram dealerships in the United States, and 214 Fiat stores.
"This growth helps our business grow as well," Mitchell said.
Minority-owned Chrysler stores account for an outsized percentage of the automaker's annual sales. In 2013, the 189 minority-owned rooftops accounted for 9.8 percent of Chrysler Group's U.S. sales, up from 7.5 percent in 2012, Mitchell said, "so they're getting their fair share and more."
Damian Mills, president of Mills Automotive in Fort Mill, S.C., said of Chrysler and Fiat minority dealers: "As the manufacturer has thrived, we have thrived. But you know what? There's always opportunity for more."
Mills was elected president of the Chrysler Minority Dealers Association on Friday. He succeeded Ralph Martinez, owner of Town & Country Honda in Gladstone, Ore. Martinez sold Chrysler-Jeep, Fiat, Chevrolet and Hyundai dealerships in the Portland, Ore., area, late last year, according to an Oct. 30 release.
Hispanics and Asians accounted for the largest gains among minority groups owning Chrysler stores, each adding nine dealerships in 2013, while there were six new Native American-owned dealerships and two additional African-American-owned dealerships.
In total, 82 Chrysler dealerships are owned by Hispanics, 48 by Asians, 43 by African-Americans and 16 by Native Americans, Chrysler said.
In 2011, Chrysler launched an 18-month minority dealer development program to train people who had been general managers to be dealers. As part of the program, Chrysler agreed to partner financially with graduates to help them buy dealerships. The automaker subsidizes the general managers' salaries while they are in the program.
Mitchell said the second five-member class of candidates from the program is expected to graduate early this year.
Mills said the Chrysler minority dealer group this month started its own program, CMDA Future Dealers Alliance, to mentor and nurture minority dealership managers who work at members' dealerships and want to become dealers. Alliance members will be invited to attend some portions of the dealers' meetings and training sessions so they can network and get exposed to the business firsthand.
"We figure the best way to identify this type of talent is through something like this," Mills said of the program. "We'll see where it goes and how many people are interested. If it is one person, it's one person more than we had before we started."
Lisa Hogan, the association's executive director, says the association is accepting applications to join the alliance. Those who join will be invited to attend the Chrysler minority dealer association meeting this summer.
Last year Mills was designated as a member of Automotive News' "40 under 40," a group of young dealers and managers recognized for their achievements in the auto industry.