General Motors is on track toward its goal of awarding dealerships to 25 African-Americans and other minorities by year end, said Eric Peterson, GM's new U.S. vice president of diversity dealer relations.
Peterson said franchisees are being drawn from a pool of minority dealers and former dealers who lost stores in the recession. Also under consideration: candidates whom GM thinks are capable of running dealerships but have never had stores.
Peterson's new duties focus on expanding GM's network of stores owned by women and minorities.
At the National Association of Minority Automobile Dealers conference in July, Mark Reuss, GM's North America president, said the company had added seven minority-owned dealerships since Jan. 1.
Neither Reuss nor Peterson, both of whom attended the Rainbow PUSH Global Automotive Summit in Detroit this month, would say how many have been awarded since then.
"When we get toward the end of the year, we will start talking more specific numbers because the fourth quarter, fortunately or unfortunately, is when we put the majority of our stores in," said Peterson, 61. "The focus is there, the pressure is there, and we want to hit our objectives."
He added: "We have a whole bunch in the works."
All minorities are included in GM's stretch effort, but Peterson said there is emphasis on African-Americans.
At the Rainbow PUSH event, NAMAD President Damon Lester and civil rights leader Jesse Jackson pointed out that the overall number of dealerships owned by African-Americans is not growing along with those owned by their minority and nonminority peers as the auto industry rebounds.
NAMAD data indicate that the number of dealerships owned by African-Americans dropped to 261 at the end of 2012, from 263 in 2011 and a high of 751 in 2005.
Minorities own 201 GM dealerships; 36 are owned by African- Americans, Peterson said. According to the Automotive News Data Center, GM had 4,355 dealerships on Jan. 1.
Peterson, formerly GM's U.S. vice president of corporate diversity, said his new role moves him from overseer of the company's minority dealer development and Women's Retail Network programs to working more directly with programs and their directors.
Ronald McCants is the director of dealer development, and Celeste Briggs is director of the program for women dealers. Briggs reports to McCants, who reports to Peterson.
Peterson retains his duties as company liaison with civil rights and diversity groups such as the NAACP, Rainbow PUSH and the National Council of La Raza.
Peterson joined GM's Buick Division in 1976. He had several sales jobs with Buick and Chevrolet. In 1998 he became head of GM's minority dealer development. In 2001 he was named to head GM's dealer development program.