Jesse Jackson leads minority trade mission to Japan's automakers

Jesse Jackson: "They are hosting us. This is not hostile."

Photo credit: Bloomberg
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LOS ANGELES -- Rev. Jesse Jackson is leading a Rainbow PUSH Coalition trade mission to meet with the heads of Japan’s leading automakers later this week, in order to increase the representation of minority interests in management, suppliers and dealerships.

In a phone interview late Tuesday, Jackson said that Rainbow PUSH wants “to expand our partnership with Honda, Nissan and Toyota, and globalize our relationship. We have fruitful relationships and we want to expand them. We have an interest in jobs and professional services and dealerships and suppliers.”

Jackson told Automotive News: "They are hosting us. This is not hostile."

Rainbow PUSH’s last trade mission, about 10 years ago, “has worked out wonderfully well,” Jackson said. But he added that the recession has taken a toll on minority representation -- especially among franchised auto dealers.

“Out of 20,000 [total] dealerships, it went from 700 to 200 African-American-owned dealerships. We took the biggest hit in the recession. But we kept consuming,” Jackson said.

Outside of the reduced minority dealer count, Jackson declined to name specific goals for the trade mission, outside of “mutually beneficial growth relationships,” but said he held “great optimism” that the mission would be successful.

Gaining business-side share of mind from Japanese automakers is key for Rainbow PUSH, as minorities -- especially African-Americans -- are a key demographic customer. The top three brands for ethnic-minority consumers in the U.S. last year were Toyota with 18 percent of minority market share; Honda with 13 percent and Nissan with 10 percent.

The 16-person mission includes executives from minority-run companies in the supply-chain logistics, petroleum and insurance industries.

The departure for the mission coincides with the date of the assassination of Rev. Martin Luther King, who Jackson said, “died fighting for a more just economic order.”

The mission will meet with leaders of Honda, Nissan and Toyota, at their respective corporate headquarters.

The delegation will discuss a Diversity and Inclusion Strategic Plan based upon the Rainbow PUSH Automotive Diversity Scorecard issued in January of 2013, the group said in a release.

The scorecard provides a snapshot of accountability for each manufacturer’s success at building and sustaining ethnic diversity and inclusion, focusing on corporate leadership, human resources, suppliers, purchasing, dealer representation, advertising and marketing, philanthropy and community reinvestment.

“The auto companies have a long way to go,” Jackson said in a released statement. “The scorecard reflects that minority dealers and suppliers, and advertising agencies are not equal partners with the auto companies. We will seek a true reciprocal relationship between the auto companies and people, businesses and communities of color.”

Last fall, after being criticized by the National Association of Minority Automobile Dealers for a lack of minority-owned dealerships, General Motors said it was on track to add 25 minority-owned dealerships by year’s end.

According to Rainbow PUSH, in 2013, ethnic-minority consumers purchased 24 percent of vehicle sales, with African Americans making up 8 percent of new vehicle customers. Ethnic-minority consumers led new vehicle purchases faster than the rest of the marketplace with a growth rate of 56 percent, with African Americans making up 33 percent of that growth rate.

You can reach Mark Rechtin at mrechtin@crain.com. -- Follow Mark on Twitter


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