As recently as 20 years ago, black dealers complained that they could not get import dealerships.
Things have changed.
According to the National Association of Minority Automobile Dealers, 472, or 51 percent of the 921 dealerships owned by minorities at the end of 2010, were import stores. Hispanics owned 199 of those dealerships; Asian-Americans, 118; and American Indians, 36. Of the 261 dealerships owned by black dealers, 119, or 46 percent, were import stores.
Though precise comparisons are unavailable, on Feb. 11, 1991, Automotive News quoted NAMAD as saying 49, or 7 percent, of the 665 minority dealers in the United States owned import stores.
At that time, few import companies identified the number of black dealers they had.
Damon Lester, NAMAD's president, says that over the past few years as the domestic automakers have reduced their dealer networks in general, import automakers have gradually increased their minority dealership numbers.
"It was bound to happen that the imports would outnumber the domestics," he says.
Ernest Bastien, vice president of retail market development at Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A., says Toyota and Lexus dealerships owned by minorities increased 30 percent since 2001, to 100 now.
Bastien says Hispanics own 38 Toyota and Lexus dealerships; Asian-Americans, 29; black dealers, 23; and American Indians, 10.
Bastien says the net number of minority dealers has not grown much in recent years because minority dealers, like all other dealers, sell their stores. Sometimes the buyer is another minority member, he says; sometimes not.
"There were tremendous profit opportunities for many dealers that were hard to resist," he adds.
Dave Zuchowski, Hyundai Motor America's executive vice president of sales, says at the end of the first quarter, 66 of the company's dealerships were operated by minority dealers, down from 74 at the end of 2008. Hyundai had 803 dealerships on Jan. 1.
Zuchowski declined to identify dealers by ethnicity but did say Hispanic dealers make up the single largest ethnic group, followed by Asian-Americans.
He added: "The performance numbers for our minority dealer population are strikingly consistent with our general dealer population and have shown considerable growth."