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Pioneering dealer Jack Pohanka dies at 92

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Jack Pohanka — a pioneer in dual franchising who coined the term “megadealer” and a former NADA president — died Sunday. He was 92.

He was chairman of the Pohanka Automotive Group, primarily serving the Washington, D.C., area. The family business, founded in 1919, is one of the nation’s oldest dealership groups. Pohanka became its dealer principal in 1958 after the death of his father, Frank.

Today, the group employs about 1,600 people across 17 new-vehicle stores and one nonfranchised store in Maryland, Virginia, Delaware and Texas.
“He loved the car business, loved the car dealers,” Pohanka’s son Geoffrey, president of the dealership group, told Automotive News. “He was happy to give back to the industry that he cared so much about.”

Pohanka, who was named an Automotive News Visionary Dealer in 2009, said he was the first U.S. auto dealer to sell both foreign and domestic vehicles.

“In those days, you were either a foreign or domestic dealer. I dualed Fiat with [Oldsmobile]. I didn’t realize what I was doing. I always wanted a better franchise,” he told Automotive News in 2006.

“I started courting Honda before they came east, and became one of the first Honda dealers. Then Acura came along. And then Lexus — I knew that was the right thing to do. I got with that trend early on,” he explained. “A dealer has to hedge his bets. You can’t have all your eggs in one basket.”

As he built the company, Pohanka also remained active with NADA, becoming the group’s annual president in 1976.

Pohanka was also active in several other national and local industry and business groups. He was a founder and chairman of the National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence, or ASE, which tests and certifies auto technicians in the U.S.

He was also founder and first chairman of the National Automobile Technicians Education Foundation, which in 2018 merged with the Automotive Youth Educational Systems to become the ASE Education Foundation. It evaluates automotive programs at vocational schools.

One of Pohanka’s innovations was the creation of Capital Automotive REIT, a real estate investment trust that buys franchised dealerships and leases them back to dealers. When it was founded in 1997, it was the only publicly held REIT for dealerships.

“All of us at NADA were deeply saddened to learn of the passing of Jack Pohanka,” CEO Peter Welch said in an emailed statement on Monday. “Jack was an incredibly innovative and respected dealer and businessman, and the entire dealer body benefited greatly from his leadership as an NADA director and our 1976 NADA chairman.”

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