Rich Miller publishes book alleging systematic racism in the auto industry
Rich Miller, a former Lincoln Mercury Ford dealer, published his book Dealing: The Incredible Journey of an African American Car Dealer earlier this year in the middle of a pandemic to shed light on what he describes as the economic injustice Black people face as consumers and entrepreneurs in the auto industry.
According to Miller, Black people in the United States spend more than $50 billion on new cars every year. He said African Americans spend more money on cars than houses. Yet despite having such extraordinary spending power, Blacks own very few car dealerships, roughly 270 as of December 2017 out of 19,284, he said, which is less than 1.5% of the auto dealer market.
Born in Barbados and raised in the Bronx, Miller began a career on Wall Street after graduating from The City College of New York in the early 1980s with a degree in Economics. At that time, he went to work at a traditional bank but, he said, faced racial discrimination that barred him from becoming a licensed stockbroker. He soon left the Street to complete his MBA at Long Island City College.
As a business school graduate, Miller landed an interview with Ford Motor Company and was offered a job on the spot. He packed up and moved to Indianapolis to start his career as what was called an “Owner Relations Analyst” in those days. This afforded him an inside look at the business as his responsibilities entailed analyzing the financial statements of Ford’s dealerships and making recommendations on how the company could grow. Very soon, however, he grew “tired of making the white dealers rich,” he said, and decided to embark on his own journey of owning a franchise.
In January 1990, Miller was accepted into the Ford Minority Dealer Training Program, founded and developed by Reverend Jesse Jackson, Nate Conyers, one of the first Black car dealers in America, along with his brother, John Conyers, and Mel Farr, former football player for the Detroit Lions. The initiative’s goal was to give minorities with the financial resources and desire to become car dealers the training they need to be successful in running their own dealership, and it allowed Miller to eventually acquire his own Lincoln Mercury franchise in St. Louis, which he achieved by the age of 36.
However, in addition to the cyclical nature of car sales in the predominantly Black, less-affluent area he was serving, Miller said, he also dealt with the flight of white clientele as more Black people visited the showroom. He said he also faced discriminatory practices from credit lenders who often wouldn’t issue loans to customers with poor credit (the majority of his Black patrons), and lack of support from his corporate representatives. In one conversation, he said, he even had a white corporate rep make comments about his need to “lighten the showroom.” He said this led to his franchise’s demise in the Summer of 1997.
More than 23 years later, Miller said that nothing has changed. Progress has completely stagnated if not halted. Out of the 270 Black dealerships reported in 2017, by his estimate COVID-19 will cut half of them out of business. When Miller sent letters to the top 10 automobile CEOs, he said he did not receive answers from most of them and subpar responses deflecting the gravity of the issue from the others.
In Dealing, Miller not only shares his experiences but offers Black consumers valuable information on how to purchase a car or truck and avoid getting ripped off and contributing to this injustice.
Miller recommends boycotting selected manufacturers, picketing select dealerships, organizing labor strikes, and purchasing stock in publicly traded car companies to filibuster their shareholder meetings and/or to vote to have racist policies removed and replace members of their board.
Ultimately, Miller believes the first step to tackle what he considers racism in the auto industry is to inform African Americans and the rest of public. For any Black car consumers or allies who are looking to purchase a vehicle, Miller’s book is a highly recommended read and can be found on Amazon at https://tinyurl.com/Rich-Miller-Dealing.
Miller now owns am insurance company StoneLeaf Finance & Insurance Group. You can visit his website at www.stoneleafinsurance.com.
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