Surrounded by paperwork in an office of the dealership he just closed, Jesse Greathouse reminisces about what it was like when he acquired Cross Road Chrysler-Jeep in Oklahoma City 16 years ago.
He recalls it as a time when diversity was a priority for Detroit 3 manufacturers.
"It was more a nurturing process," says Greathouse, 57, a black entrepreneur who got his store in Chrysler's minority dealer program. "They didn't have a lot of people of color in the industry, so part of their responsibility or objective was to help cultivate that experience."
Greathouse dodged rejection by Chrysler during its restructuring. But he closed his store on Oct. 15 because he couldn't find floorplanning.
His plight sheds light on the struggles of minority dealers in the industry's deep recession.
Starting in the 1980s, minority dealers were recruited and financed by the Detroit 3 in appreciable numbers. As a result, they largely hold domestic franchises and have been dependent on the Detroit 3's captive finance companies for inventory loans.
But now neither General Motors Co. nor Chrysler Group has a captive finance company. Ford Motor Co.'s financial arm has tightened its purse strings. Weakened by poor auto sales and declining Detroit 3 market share, many minority dealers, like Great-house, are having a hard time finding inventory loans and are struggling to stay afloat.