A factory man beloved in retail is an anomaly in the automotive business. So was Jere Kitzmiller, a longtime Cadillac employee who died last month in Newport Beach, Calif., from flu and pneumonia complications. He was 84.
Kitzmiller, born in Wyomissing, Pa., began his 44-year career with General Motors' Cadillac Motor Car Division in 1953.
Throughout his career, Kitzmiller moved around the country, assisting in projects in Detroit, Los Angeles and Washington, D.C., ultimately becoming general sales manager for the company's western market.
Kitzmiller started in the automotive industry working under his father at AW Golden Pontiac-Cadillac in Reading, Pa., in 1947, later attending the General Motors Institute to become a service engineer. Before long, he edited servicing and training manuals for technicians and was a training center instructor.
As he moved up through the company, Kitzmiller never forgot the lessons he learned and the people he met along the way.
"He was an absolute relationship person. He knew the product and the heritage of the vehicle and enhanced the value of the franchise," Michael Kitzmiller, his son, told Automotive News. "He used every relationship he ever had going back to the early 1950s, and he'd capitalize on them to help the product and to help the dealers."
In the early 1980s, while in Detroit, Kitzmiller and his team worked closely with Amar Bose, the founder of Bose Corp. Cadillac — along with GM siblings Buick and Oldsmobile — were the first brands to incorporate the audio systems into their product lineups.
After retiring from GM in 1993, Kitzmiller joined Penske Automotive Group as vice president. He retired in 2007.
Roger Penske considers Kitzmiller "instrumental" to the company's success, particularly on the West Coast.
While still at Cadillac, Kitzmiller called Penske regarding a point in Downey, Calif. Penske signed the dealer agreement in 1978 for Spreen Cadillac, forging a relationship with Kitzmiller. The location has since been sold.
"We wouldn't be in California as a dealer if it wasn't for Jere," Penske said. "[Kitzmiller] was a high integrity guy, full transparency. Never saw a person who cared more about people working many levels below him."
As vice president, Kitzmiller spent time traveling among the Penske locations but worked closely with Penske's son Greg as they built the Longo Toyota campus in El Monte, Calif. The dealership, owned by Penske Motor Group, is one of the most profitable. Penske said the campus sold nearly 20,000 new and used vehicles in 2017.