DETROIT - General Motors' first effort to attract more female dealers will resemble the automaker's minority dealer program.
The effort is led by Patricia Roberts, a 34-year GM veteran. As the company's general director of Women's Retail Initiatives, Roberts, 52, is responsible for recruiting, training and finding stores for women who aspire to be car dealers.
The program is the first by a Big 3 carmaker aimed solely at women.
To qualify, candidates will need at least $125,000 in unencumbered capital or 15 percent of the initial investment.
Roberts declined to say how many women she expects to recruit for the program.
Candidates will partcipate in a program that is virtually identical to GM's program for minority dealer candidates, she said.
Potential candidates will go through a leadership assessment exercise to measure business and people skills. Those selected will be trained at the National Automobile Dealers Association Academy. Training takes about a year.
Roberts said she hopes the first class is ready to enter the academy this summer.
Roberts said GM created the female dealer initiative for the same reason it created the minority dealer program: The company wants its dealer network to more closely reflect GM's diverse customer base.
'To ensure that we have a retail body that mirrors the communities in which we do business, its the right thing to do - to have more females as entrepreneurs within our GM franchise system,' Roberts said.
The company has a ways to go.
Of GM's 7,831 dealerships, 200 - about 2.5 percent - are owned by women. These women own at least 51 percent of their dealerships and manage them.
According to J.D. Power and Associates, about 34.8 percent of all new-car purchases are made by women. Power spokesman John Tews said the study does not account for new-car purchases influenced by women, which reaches about 80 percent by some industry estimates.
Roberts, former manager of diversity marketing for GM's Western Region, was named to her position in January.
While the company is to formally announce the program today, March 19, word of its existence has spread throughout the dealership community, she said.
'I'm getting a lot of calls from dealers who are interested in what I'm doing and want to help the females in their own families,' she said.
Roberts said she expects to recruit candidates with entrepreneurial spirits and who are risk takers. Many of those women, she said, will have dealership or other management experience and are business owners. She said she will work with dealerships and women's business organizations to find candidates.