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Automotive service

Competition tightens at the head of the pack
Christian Chia, president and CEO of OpenRoad Auto Group: top 100 private company also named among the best employers in Canada for 2012

For Gordon Wolfe, partner, president and CEO of Wolfe Auto Group, being named among BIV’s top 100 private companies in B.C. is another signpost for an auto retailer recognized as one of the highest-volume dealers in the province.

“We are far from the largest,” Wolfe said, but he noted his Langley-based firm will expand this year, opening its fifth location. The new outlet will be its first in Vancouver but Wolfe would not say exactly where. “We are still in some negotiations,” he said from his office at Wolfe Mazda in Langley.

Wolfe Auto Group is jointly owned by Wolfe and Michael Hacquard, the group’s general manager. The company, founded in 1987, has 115 employees who Wolfe said are the reason for his company’s success.

“We have very highly qualified staff,” he said. That was evident in 2011, as Wolfe was named the top Mazda volume dealer in B.C. for the third straight year.

Wolfe’s dealerships each offer a single brand: Mitsubishi and Subaru at separate lots in Langley, and two Mazda dealerships in Langley and Chilliwack.

Unlike some auto dealers, Wolfe prefers stand-alone dealerships, rather than auto malls. And it is for more than independence.

“I think you limit yourself on the upside real estate potential down the road [by being in an auto mall],” he said. “And real estate is part and parcel of our business, over time.”

Wolfe said the competition in B.C.’s auto market reflects what is on new-car lots.

“I don’t think there is a bad car being made today,” Wolfe said, “and that is something you wouldn’t have said 10 years ago.”

Dueck Auto Group

Stuart Haskins, vice-president and general manager of Vancouver-based Dueck Auto Group, agrees. Success for an auto dealer today is based on customer service, Haskins said, because all of the new cars are of such high calibre.

Dueck Auto Group is owned by Moray Keith, who is also president and CEO. Keith bought Dueck Chevrolet in 1987. One of the largest GM dealerships in Canada, Dueck now has 330 employees, two auto lots in Vancouver and a Richmond dealership that opened five years ago. Dueck is a rare breed in the B.C. auto world: a company dedicated to Detroit, dealing in new Chevrolet, Cadillac, Buick and GMC vehicles.

“Moray is very loyal to General Motors,” Haskins said, noting it was a loyalty tested over the past four years that is now being rewarded. “GM’s new Spark economy model; the new Cadillac ATS; it is a very exciting time for us,” Haskins said.

When asked about expansion plans for one of B.C.’s largest private companies, Haskins was coy. “Let’s just say we are open to all opportunities.”

OpenRoad Auto Group

OpenRoad Auto Group’s listing with BIV’s top private companies in B.C. comes in the same year the Vancouver company was named among the 10 Best Employers in Canada, an annual list compiled by Toronto-based consulting firm Aon Hewitt. It is the third straight year OpenRoad has made the list and it remains the only auto dealer to be named among Canada’s top 10 employers.

OpenRoad operates 10 Lower Mainland car dealerships selling nine import brands – Lexus, Toyota, Scion, Audi, BMW, Mini, Honda, Mazda, and Hyundai. Its newest location opens this month: a new 19,000-square-foot Infiniti dealership at the auto mall on Glover Road and the Langley Bypass.

Christian Chia is president and CEO of OpenRoad, which is owned by the Chia family. It opened in 1977, has 550 employees and, according to the company, “70,000 active customers.”

Chia is quick to credit his staff for OpenRoad’s accelerating business. “What we have accomplished together is making our company a truly unique place to work, and we are committed to build this community even stronger by keeping open dialogue with our employees to foster growth as a company and as a family.” •