Scores of black women have made great strides in some areas of the auto industry over the years, but only a few have been able to advance in the area of dealerships.
In recent times, complaints have been made about the lack of diversity in the automotive industry, particularly in dealerships which remain areas largely for white males.
Statistics from the National Association of Minority Automobile Dealers show that 30 percent of new vehicle purchases in the U.S. are made by multicultural consumers but only 6 percent of dealerships are minority-owned.
Women make 85 percent of auto purchases yet, less than 8 percent of all car dealerships across the U.S. are owned by women, with only about 1 percent being owned by women of color.
Among this small number of women who have achieved their dreams of becoming car dealers is Ellenae Fairhurst.
Before entering the auto industry as a secretary at the Ford Motor Company in 1968, Fairhurst worked as a secretary for Motown Records and for the law firm of Goodman, Eden, & Robb.
She had her own challenges when she entered the male-dominated retail auto industry but with hard work and perseverance, she purchased a Nissan Infiniti dealership in 1999 and became the first African American female in North America to own an Infiniti dealership.
That same year, she became the first African-American female owner of a Lexus dealership, which is located in Huntsville, Alabama.
Born on January 6, 1943, in Dayton and later earning an M.A. degree in social and consumer psychology from the University of Detroit, Fairhurst had some tough moments when she began her career in the automobile industry.
Working at Ford for 17 years, where she served as a marketing research analyst before being promoted to project manager, she was once sidelined for a management training program by the company because she was married.
The auto industry, according to a report by Automotive News, “is inflexible and not friendly to women, who still have most of the child-rearing responsibility in a family.”
But even though marriage suspended some of her ambitions at the time, Fairhurst didn’t give up. She left Ford in 1986 and joined the Chrysler Corporation retail dealer development program.
In two years, she opened her first car dealership, which was a Chrysler franchise in Fayetteville, North Carolina.
In spite of challenges such as lack of access to information and opportunity, the business was successful and within the first five years, a lot of cars were sold.
She was able to pay off the dealership in just eight years which is about half the time that it would usually take to do so – most people pay off in 15 years.
And how was she able to do this within short notice? Black Mail writes: “Ford had an employee stock purchase program which had a company match. Fairhurst participated in this program and was able to use these funds to help fund her efforts to purchase the Chrysler dealership.”
By 1999, she had purchased the Nissan Infiniti dealership before eventually making history as the first African-American female to own a Lexus franchise.
Her website says: “Our passion is providing you with a world-class ownership experience. We share the thrill our customers get from owning and driving a Lexus. Whether you come in for a new or pre-owned Lexus, to have your vehicle serviced or to arrange financing, we are committed to providing a Lexus experience that keeps you coming back.”
Serving on many boards, including being a member of the National Automobile Dealers Association and the National Association of Minority Automobile Dealers, the 76-year-old has been widely recognized for her hard work in the auto industry.
Ranked several times by Black Enterprise magazine’s “Auto Dealer 100” list, Fairhurst has also been awarded the Daimler-Chrysler Five Star Award and Elite of Lexus Status for her success as an automotive dealership owner.
She recently highlighted the tremendous roles women play in the retail auto industry, adding that “They bring a more human element to this industry and they have an excellent work ethic.”