Minority auto dealers ask for access to SBA loans

Automobile dealers are suffering, and minority dealers are getting hit especially hard by the steep economic downturn, Legacy Chevrolet owner Emanuel Jones said.

Jones, acting on behalf of National Association of Minority Automobile Dealers, is calling for the Obama administration to free up loan money from the Small Business Administration to help the struggling dealerships.

“It is a lot more severe for minority dealers,” Jones said of the reason for the request. “Traditionally, they have smaller stores in smaller communities.”

Jones, also a Georgia state senator from Henry County, will make his plea Friday at a news conference in Atlanta. Representatives from other minority business associations including the state Black Chamber of Commerce and Black Contractors Association are expected to attend.

Jones and other members of the Minority Automobile Association leadership met last week in Washington with members of Obama’s transition team. The state senator wants to make his case all the way to the top.

“I would like to meet with the president,” Jones said.

In 1980, President Carter signed an executive order that opened up SBA funds to minority dealers, Jones said. That ensured survival for many dealerships that were caught in the economic struggles of that time.

“And every one of them paid the money back,” Jones said.

Jones would like to see the federal loan program opened up to all dealers, he said. The National Automobile Dealers Association is also pushing for SBA loans for its membership, Jones said. He is a member of that group, as well.

“It is a two-pronged approach,” Jones said.

Columbus Nissan dealer Rob Doll said it would be confusing if both organizations request access to the loan fund.

“We have a black president and some organizations feel they need special attention because things are not equal,” Doll said. “If the NADA has asked the government, why are they asking for the same thing for minority dealers? That does not make sense to me.”

Jones said many minority dealerships are in deep trouble. He points to Ford, which once had more than 225 minority dealership owners. That is down to about 70, he said.

The dealers are being squeezed by the lack of available loans for everything from repairs to floor planning, which allows them to stock vehicles.

“The dealers are suffering losses and their net worth is disappearing,” Jones said.

Lenders such as GMAC and Ford Credit are not making funds readily available and traditional banks, caught in their own financial mess, are balking at loans, Jones said.

“We need access to loans,” Jones said. “There is nowhere else to go.”

Columbus dealer Jay Stelzenmuller, owner of Jay Auto Group, said all dealers should be treated equal.

"The economy has hit white dealers as hard as it has hit black dealers, Chinese dealers, Korean dealers and anybody else who is in this business," Stelzenmuller said. "It is not fair to treat any one segment of our community any differently from another."

Jones points to one of his friends who has been a dealer for 34 years. He would not identify the man, but said he was in danger of going out of business.

“It’s the reason I am do passionate about it,” Jones said. “He needs some help and he has told me about others in the same situation. This downturn has hurt so many people. But we are not talking about saving individuals. We are talking about saving jobs.”

The average minority-owned dealership employs about 55 people.

Jones owns dealerships in Columbus and McDonough, Ga. He recently sold his Ford dealership in Marion, N.C., and sold his Toyota dealership in Union City last year. Jones bought the bankrupt Bill Heard Chevrolet store in Columbus in December. He paid about $25 million for the store and its inventory.