A volatile economy and aggressive growth strategies buoyed some black-owned dealership groups, sank others and created significant changes in Black Enterprise magazine's annual "B.E. Auto Dealer 100" list.
Harrell Co. of Atlanta, which was not on the 1999 list and placed fifth in 2000, was the No. 1 black-owned dealership group in the United States last year with sales of $417.35 million.
Black Enterprise ranks the largest black-owned businesses in several categories, including automobile dealerships. Rankings are based on total dollar sales from all dealership departments in the previous year.
Sheila Vaden-Williams, president of the National Association of Minority Automobile Dealers, said 2001 was a year of extremes for minority dealers. Dealers with popular franchises and good locations who were able to capitalize on economies of scale did well. Others, she said, are "feeling the pinch."
Steve Harrell, owner and chairman of Harrell Co., has been a dealer since 1987. On the 2000 list, Harrell owned Chevrolet, Toyota, Dodge and Kia franchises, which generated sales of $268.55 million. Since then, he has added Lexus, Honda and Nissan to his holdings.
No. 2 on the 2001 list is former top-ranked Mel Farr Automotive Group of Ferndale, Mich., with sales of $353.34 million. The 2001 revenues include sales from some stores no longer in the group.
Once the nation's largest black-owned dealership company, with 11 dealerships and $568 million in revenues, Mel Farr Automotive at its peak included Ford, Lincoln, Mercury, Toyota, Volkswagen and Mazda franchises.
Today, owner Mel Farr has Hyundai and Kia franchises plus a used-car store.
A lawsuit filed last December by a former employee alleges that Farr was forced to sell six dealerships after defaulting on a loan to Ford Motor Credit Co. Martin Automotive Group, based in Bowling Green, Ky., ranked No. 3 on the list with $353.10 million in revenues. Martin ranked sixth last year.
March/Hodge Group of Hartford, Conn., ranked No. 4 with sales of $352.58 million, followed by Prestige Automotive of Detroit with $323.81 million in sales.
Last year, Prestige was No.1 and March/Hodge was No. 2.