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Lexus manager also Ironman competitor

Automobiles: Local dealership brings in manager for year-end push

Posted: November 12, 2010 9:42 p.m.
Updated: November 13, 2010 4:55 a.m.
 

The race to sell the most luxury cars heats up as the auto industry revs up for the final two months of sales for 2010. 

And in October, Keyes Lexus of Valencia brought just the right man on board to lead the charge in the local market.
Luther White, general manager, is also an Ironman competitor.

An Air Force veteran, White originally joined the competition to lose weight, he said. Competitors endure a grueling triathlon of swimming, biking and running. We’re not talking short sprints. The swim is 2.4 miles, accompanied by a 112-mile bike ride and 26.2-mile run.

White said the competitions have taught him that as you start superseding goals and aspirations, you realize the original goals probably weren’t as challenging as they could have been.

“You learn that there’s no easy route,” White said. “You put the work in, you become committed.”

The Lexus brand
One of the biggest assets in the luxury line is exceeding customer expectations and providing consumers with a product that has a strong value, White said.

Susan Gayton, customer-relations manager, agreed saying that Lexus is known for value, reliability, comfort and luxury.
J.D. Power, a leading consumer-satisfaction analyst, concluded that Lexus scored high in its 2009 report based on responses from 48,000 customers who bought or leased a Lexus.  The company surveyed consumers’ overall experience, the dealership facilities, salespeople, price, finance and delivery process.

Good consumer ratings have propelled Lexus to be where it is at today, White said.

The local dealership also offers many online services for the convenience of customers who want to save time purchasing a part, booking a test drive or scheduling a service appointment, in addition to starting the buying process for a new or used car.

“We’ve seen a tremendous uptick in our (online) business as we begin to serve customer’s needs through technology,” White said.

Locally, the dealer has earned the Elite Dealer recognition for Lexus for the past nine of the 10 years it has been in business. White said the award is a source of pride for the associates who work at the dealership.

The honor is based on an ongoing training program for all employees, which focuses on product knowledge and customer satisfaction. Other criteria for the award are based on sales, service and customer-satisfaction surveys from their own customers.

The automotive market overall has been relatively flat, but is showing signs of revival. White expects Lexus to have a strong close for the year and enter 2011 in a great position.

The next two months are traditionally a good time for consumers to take advantage of year-end sales. The U.S. government’s projection is that 13.9 million cars will be sold in the U.S. as Lexus gears for its annual “December to Remember” campaign.

In a tough economy, White said some manufacturers and dealers cut back. At Keyes Lexus of Valencia, White has been looking for good candidates to hire.

“I think what separates companies are the ones that are really engaged with their own consumers,” White said, “and the ones that are continuing to invest.”

Ironman
White moved to Santa Clarita from the eastern U.S., where he the market director for an automotive group in New York, New Jersey and Maryland that oversaw 14 dealerships and 3 body shops. The group primarily handled European brands, so he knows his local competition well.

With an undergraduate degree from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst and law degree from Suffolk University Law School, White has worked in the automotive management for 16 years. The new general manager moved to Santa Clarita with his wife and three children.

Both White and his wife are triathletes. He believes that living a healthy life allows him to be productive, and he places great personal value on integrity and relationships.

“Living life as fast as we do,” White said. “We shortchange ourselves because we take the easy route.”

That’s what he likes about Ironman competition. The commitment to succeed keeps him focused in life.

Last weekend, White had friends who raced in the New York City Marathon.

Asked how he likes winter in California, White said it’s good. He misses the foliage and the trees, but said there is a
different kind of beauty out here that he thinks is great.

The Keyes connection
After flying out to meet with the owner of Keyes, White said he fell in love with the organization.

He liked the idea of working with an organization that wasn’t publicly traded because it gave him the opportunity to be part of our community and manage the business from a local perspective, based on meeting the needs of consumers in the SCV.

White appreciates being able to make a difference with a customer and build and foster relationships.

“It’s immensely valuable for us to invest in our customers,” White said. He also said the advantage of working within the Keyes automotive group is that the dealership operates like a private company and responds to the needs to consumers. But it can also help customer who at times have a need for a different kind of vehicle. In those cases, White said his team can work with the other dealerships and meet the customers’ needs out of the local store.

White said that working in a publically traded company had some advantages, but that the relationship with the customer gets lost because the business becomes all about the bottom line numbers.

Keyes Lexus of Valencia has been the annual sponsor of the Jazz and Blues Summertime Concert Series for more than a decade. The dealership will sponsor the event again next summer. The event benefits local charities.

“It’s been a tremendously successful community event, and we’re honored to be a partner on that deal,” White said. “We absolutely intend to remain committed to that event.”

Photo finish
In a race to the finish line, Lexus and Mercedes-Benz are competing to be the top seller of luxury vehicles in the U.S. It has been reported that Lexus has led the luxury auto market for over a decade.

White said that Lexus has always been at the forefront of technology and design, and that the Lexus vehicles offer great value over European competitors.

Lexus has been able to manufacture vehicles with great efficiency, White said. This allows the manufacturer to put its money into research and development in the design of new products that don’t break the bank from a maintenance perspective for consumers.

White’s comments are based on his experience from working with seven auto manufacturers over the past 16 years; many of whom produced the European luxury vehicles that Lexus competes with.

Lexus is very proud of its history and accomplishments, White said. He believes the race will be very close, and that from a competition perspective, the push to be No. 1 will only help both brands.

“We’re not going to give up the fight easily,” said White. “I think there’s no question it’s going to come down to a photo finish.”

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