Chrysler adds minority-owned dealerships

Damian Mills, left, president of the Chrysler Minority Dealers Association, greets guest speaker Retired Lt. Gen. Russel Honore during the association's reception in New Orleans. Honore served 37 years in the U.S. Army and led the U.S. Defense Department's response in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
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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 years the automaker has recruited minority owners and sponsored training and financial programs to urge 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 the Chrysler and Fiat minority dealers: "As the manufacturer has thrived, we have thrived. But you know what? There's always opportunity for more."

Mills, who spoke during the Chrysler Minority Dealers Association banquet during the National Automobile Dealers Association convention here, was elected president of the association.

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 stores. 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 a program, CMDA Future Dealers Alliance, to mentor and nurture minority dealership managers who work at members' dealerships and want to become dealers.

You can reach Larry P. Vellequette at lvellequette@crain.com.


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