Mega-dealer Jack Fitzgerald, 76, owns Fitzgerald Auto Malls, based in the Washington D.C. area and with stores in Maryland, Pennsylvania and Florida.
A 54-year veteran of auto retailing, he and fellow dealers Tammy Darvish and Alan Spitzer last year formed an advocacy group, Committee to Restore Dealer Rights, to fight nationwide franchise terminations byCo. and Group LLC.
Fitzgerald has pioneered a customer-friendly car-buying process that shuns price negotiations. He also is in the forefront of the “green” car movement, hosting environmental events at his dealerships.
Ward’s: What one sign are you waiting for before you declare the U.S. auto industry ready to rock again?
Fitzgerald: The resolution of the housing crisis. That’s the main problem.
Ward’s: More than unemployment and tight credit?
Fitzgerald: Yes. The housing crisis is driving all the stress. People who see their home values decline feel poorer, so they spend less money. The whole process has been socked by the housing situation.
Ward’s: How would you describe current relations between dealers and auto makers?
Fitzgerald: As long as this business remains competitive – and it’s extremely competitive – there will be tension. Auto makers want money and they turn to dealers to provide it, so there will always be some tension and yet cooperation between the two groups.
The stress comes from the competition and the competition comes from everyone wanting to be in the U.S. market.
Ward’s: What’s new with the dealer-rights group you co-founded?
Fitzgerald: Well, it’s still around. It hasn’t gone out of business.
Ward’s: But is it active?
Fitzgerald: We haven’t done anything with it lately. But manufacturers have a lot of power, they really do. It’s like being in a stall with a horse. If you are not nimble, you could get stepped on.
Ward’s: What’s the most interesting part of your job?
Fitzgerald: My customers fascinate me. There are so many different kinds of people. My associates (employees) are interesting, too. We’re very multi-cultural. Twenty-seven different languages are spoken at our stores. That’s amazing, considering the world has only 164 languages that I’m aware of.
Ward’s: What car are you driving right now?
Fitzgerald: APrius plug-in (specially adapated), Phaeton and Subaru Legacy.
Ward’s: What auto makers seem to really have their acts together?
Fitzgerald: Everybody is talking aboutresurrecting itself. It is hard to argue with the success of Toyota and and smaller Japanese companies, such as Subaru and Mazda. GM appears to be coming back. may be, but I haven’t seen a lot of product yet.
Ward’s: If you couldn’t work in the auto industry, what would you be doing?
Fitzgerald: I’d probably be dead.