The auto industry lost several of its well-known stars this year, along with influential voices and faces from decades past.


Frank Hasenfratz, 86, a Hungarian refugee to Canada who later created the auto parts powerhouse Linamar Corp., died Jan. 8.

He went into business after his boss at a previous job wouldn’t consider the importance of reducing scrap waste, a quality metric that would distinguish Linamar for decades.

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The 29-year-old machinist constructed his first machine shop in his backyard in 1966 and incorporated the business under the name Linamar, after daughters Linda and Nancy and his wife, Margaret. Linamar today employs 29,000 people in 17 countries and most recently reported revenues of $5.8 billion a year.

Over time, Linamar expanded from high-volume precision vehicle parts production into aerospace, defense, and agricultural and industrial equipment.

MaryEllen Green Dohrs, a pioneering automotive designer who created the interiors of high-end General Motors cars in the early 1950s, died Jan. 12 at age 92.

Dohrs was one of the first female designers hired by GM after World War II. After she graduated from Pratt Institute in New York, she joined GM in 1950 at age 20, making her the youngest designer to ever work for the automaker, according to the book Damsels in Design: Women Pioneers in the Automotive Industry, 1939-1959 by Constance Smith.

Dohrs created the interiors of GM show cars and specialty cars for important customers, according to the GM Heritage Center. She designed the pleated leather seats in the 1950 all-red Cadillac convertible.

Dohrs was one of just a few female designers at the time, but she disliked being characterized by her gender, according to an obituary provided by her family.

In 2019, she said at a Women in Design conference in Detroit, “I still resist calling me and my type women designers … unless writers preface others as men designers.”

After GM, Dohrs worked for Sundberg-Ferar, where she drew award-winning designs for the interior of the 1955 Packard Caribbean and took on assignments for Samsonite, Whirlpool and IBM, according to the obituary.

Frank Macher, an automotive and plastics industry leader who presided over several Tier 1 suppliers, died Jan. 12 at age 80.

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As chairman and CEO of the former Continental Structural Plastics Inc., Macher is credited as one of two top executives who saved the company from insolvency.

Macher spent more than half a century in the automotive world. His seven years with Continental starting in 2010 were marked by major strides in R&D that created specialty products and sparked international growth, a move to a new headquarters and “significant profitability,” a press release said.

Macher’s help turning the company around came after the Great Recession decimated the automotive industry. He and a colleague implemented new IT systems, refinanced debt and then looked internationally for expansion opportunities.

“We took something that was very broken and turned it into a world-class innovator for the automotive industry,” Macher said in a statement around the time of his 2017 retirement.

Continental Structured Plastics was sold in 2017 to Japan’s Teijin for $825 million. The company Macher used to helm is now called Teijin Automotive Technologies and is based in suburban Detroit.

Macher worked at Ford Motor Co. for 30 years before retiring in 1996 as vice president and general manager of automotive components. But the next year, he took the top job at supplier ITT Automotive. For three years starting in 2000, he was chairman and CEO of another supplier, Federal Mogul, and then president and chairman of Collins and Aikman.

Richard Niello Sr., who once led Niello Co. dealership group, died June 4, 10 days shy of his 100th birthday.

After taking over his father’s dealership in San Francisco, Niello opened a Volkswagen store in Sacramento in the 1950s with partner Wes Lasher.

Today, Niello Co.’s 13 dealerships sell Jaguar, Land Rover, Acura, Audi, BMW, Mini, Volkswagen, Volvo and Porsche brands in Sacramento and the surrounding area.

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Gus Machado, who built an automotive company in South Florida after emigrating from Cuba as a teenager, died May 16 at age 87.

The owner of Gus Machado Ford in Hialeah, Fla., left Cuba at age 15 to settle in Miami in 1956, according to his dealership’s website. He borrowed $2,000 from his father to invest in a gas station and started exporting used vehicles back to Cuba.

Machado owned a series of used-vehicle dealerships before he acquired his first new-car franchise in 1982, Gus Machado Buick.

He sold that store two years later and bought Johnson Ford, renaming it Gus Machado Ford. In 2009, he added a second Ford dealership, now known as Gus Machado Ford of Kendall in Florida.

Speaking to Automotive News in 2012, Bill Wallace, owner of Wallace Automotive Group in Stuart, Fla., said, “Gus Machado is the North American success story. … He is an entrepreneur’s entrepreneur.”

Machado made it a priority to have a staff fluent in Spanish to ensure that Spanish-speaking customers had the same shopping experience as English-speaking ones.

Brendan Flynn, 53, was a behind-the-scenes automotive marketing leader who helped manufacturers move into digital thinking. As a worldwide auto industry marketing leader for Amazon Web Services, Flynn’s mission was to help empower the industry’s digital transformation to become more agile and customer centric through a comprehensive cloud-computing platform.

He died on May 20 after complications from a brain aneurysm, according to an obituary published by Bastian & Perrott, Oswald Mortuary in Los Angeles.

Flynn previously spent four years as chief growth officer of the automotive tech services firm, a company that creates artificial intelligence- powered virtual assistants that can deliver human-like conversational communications between vehicle brands and their customers online.

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For nearly nine years before that, he was known as the face of the Los Angeles Auto Show, serving as vice president of marketing and communications and as the key liaison for automakers coordinating product launches.

Thomas Gibson, Asbury Automotive Group Inc. co-founder and former Subaru of America President died June 20 at his Villanova, Pa., home. He was 79.

Gibson founded Asbury Automotive Group in 1994 with financial support from Onex Corp. of Toronto and a vision to buy large dealerships.

“We are not doing this to make a quick hit,” he told Automotive News in 1995. “We are building a good, customer-oriented, stable business.”

Gibson was Asbury’s chairman from the board’s creation in 1995 until 2004, a run that included Asbury’s initial public offering in 2002. He also was CEO in the group’s early years and again on a brief interim basis in 2001 following his successor’s death. He remained with the company until 2007.

Today, Asbury, of Duluth, Ga., ranks No. 5 on Automotive News‘ most recent list of the top 150 dealership groups based in the U.S., with retail sales of 109,910 new vehicles and $9.84 billion in revenue in 2021. It plans to more than triple revenue to $32 billion by 2025.

Before founding Asbury, Gibson, who earned a Harvard MBA, was president and COO of Subaru of America Inc., joining the company in 1982 and leaving in 1993. In the 1980s, Subaru of America was a high-flying, publicly traded, independent importer. But it experienced financial difficulties later in Gibson’s term and was rescued in a 1990 takeover by the Japanese automaker’s parent company, Fuji Heavy Industries. Gibson told Automotive News at the time he left that the fun had gone out of running the automaker’s U.S. unit.

His long industry career also included stints at Ford and Chrysler. His time at Chrysler included serving on CEO Lee Iacocca’s management team in the early 1980s and on the automaker’s board in the 2000s.

Bruton Smith, founder of Sonic Automotive Inc., a NASCAR Hall of Famer, racetrack owner and philanthropist, died June 22 at age 95.

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Smith was a pioneer-turned-titan in both auto retailing and motorsports, leveraging small roles selling cars and promoting dirt-track races as a youth to create two moneymaking business giants.

He launched Sonic, of Charlotte, N.C., as a public company in November 1997 with 20 dealerships. It is the seventh-largest U.S. auto retailer today, with 111 dealerships after completing the mega acquisition of RFJ Auto Partners Holdings Inc. in 2021. Sonic also owns and operates the EchoPark stand alone brand of used-vehicle stores.

Smith, a giant in racing circles who helped turn stock car racing into a multibillion-dollar business, also started Speedway Motorsports Inc., the first motorsports company to go public in 1995. (It went private in 2019.) In 1992, he became the first track owner to erect and shine lights on a course for night races.

He was a farm boy from Oakboro, N.C., whose passion for cars started early. Smith sold used cars from his front lawn as a teenager and bought his first race car at 17. He used the profits from selling his first car, a 1939 Buick sedan, to promote his first race before he was 18.

As a teen, Smith began to promote dirt-track races. He later would run the National Stock Car Racing Association and launch Charlotte Motor Speedway, which opened in 1960.

His retailing creation, Sonic Automotive, ranked No. 7 on Automotive News‘ most recent list of the top 150 dealership groups based in the U.S., with retail sales of 103,486 new vehicles in 2021.

Maryann Keller, one of the first women on Wall Street to cover the auto industry and later an influential consultant who became a formidable critic of management at Detroit’s automakers, died June 28 at age 78.

Keller, routinely the No. 1 auto analyst in Institutional Investor’s widely watched ranking of the top stock pickers at leading brokerage houses, wielded enormous clout and influence over boardrooms and showrooms. Her books, meticulously reported with unprecedented access to company insiders, became must-reads for dealers, suppliers, journalists and anyone else who desired to go behind the scenes.

With an appreciation for comprehensive, hands-on research well before the Internet and cellphones spawned today’s influencers, Keller was the rare celebrity analyst to get out of New York regularly and visit dealerships, parts makers and factories — domestic and overseas — to get a firsthand look at key operations across the auto industry.

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Whether weighing in on what she considered Tesla’s flawed retail model, the ideal number of doors on a minivan or General Motors’ prospects under new leadership as it exited bankruptcy, her candid assessments of the auto industry’s business practices, old and new, could be unsparing.

She was among the first analysts to question the wisdom and longevity of the 1998 merger between Mercedes- Benz and Chrysler, saying she couldn’t imagine two companies with more different cultures.

Recognizing the auto industry’s traditional booms and busts, she routinely cautioned against investing in GM, Ford and Chrysler, at one point calling out Chrysler’s fragile balance sheet and constant struggle to secure adequate funding to design and produce new models.

“You buy them to sell them,” she told The New York Times in 1986 of Detroit 3 shares. “You don’t hold onto them to put your grandchildren through college.”

In 2008, with the U.S. auto industry facing dire financial conditions and seeking a government bailout, Keller blamed leaders at GM, Ford and Chrysler for lacking speed and being resistant to change for decades.

“The Detroit 3 have only themselves to blame for the fact that two-thirds of the American public thinks they should be allowed to fail,” Keller wrote in an essay for Automotive News.

Mike Donoughe, a longtime Chrysler engineer, inventor and executive who also served in leadership roles at Tesla and Bright Automotive, died July 2 at age 63.

Donoughe’s career was chock-full of interesting turns, including serving as COO of Bright Automotive, a startup that attempted — and ultimately failed — to launch a plug-in hybrid light cargo vehicle. He was also executive vice president of vehicle engineering and manufacturing at Tesla, leading the development of the Model S; chief technical officer and head of electrification at Polaris Industries, the producer of all-terrain vehicles, snowmobiles and neighborhood electric vehicles; and co-founder of compressed gas storage company, Noble Gas Systems.

In his 25 years at Chrysler and the corporation resulting from its merger with Daimler, Donoughe left his mark on engineering efforts. He was co-inventor of Chrysler’s Autostick automatic transmission manual shifting capability and also led the development of Stow ‘N Go seating systems on Chrysler minivans. After transferring to Stuttgart to serve as director of passenger car development and all-purpose vehicles, he invented the integrated bottle opener found underneath the cup holders on the Mercedes-Benz R-Class.

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Later, he would serve as Chrysler’s vice president of family vehicles, bringing the Pacifica and revamped minivan lines to market, and then moving up to vice president of body on frame engineering, where he oversaw an all-new Jeep Wrangler and the all-new Dodge Ram.

Edward Erickson, 48, a Detroit-area senior program manager at Toyota in cost planning and vehicle specifications, was killed July 30 while participating in a three-day endurance bike ride with the Make-A-Wish Foundation’s Wish-A-Mile event. A car struck five of the participating cyclists in the 300-mile event, killing Erickson and one other rider and injuring three.

Erickson, a 23-year veteran of Toyota’s North American operations, had been most recently working on upcoming Toyota trucks. A statement released by Toyota Motor North America called Erickson “a champion for cycling safety and regularly educated our team members on the rules of the road for vehicle interaction.”

Bob Brockman, the former CEO of dealership management system giant Reynolds and Reynolds Co. who was indicted in what federal prosecutors called the largest-ever tax case against an individual in U.S. history, died Aug. 5 at age 81.

Brockman was a self-taught computer programmer who started the dealership software company Universal Computer Systems Inc. in his living room in 1970 before taking the helm of Reynolds and Reynolds after a merger with UCS in 2006.

But his rise in the auto retailing software world started to unravel in October 2020, when he was charged with tax evasion, wire fraud and other crimes in what prosecutors say was a two-decade scheme to evade taxes on $2 billion in income.

He stepped down as chairman and CEO of Reynolds and Reynolds in November 2020, shortly before his attorneys argued in federal court that Brockman had dementia that left him incompetent to stand trial. A federal judge in May ultimately found Brockman to be competent, moving forward with a trial scheduled for February 2023.

Forbes estimated his net worth at $4.7 billion.

Brockman worked at Ford Motor Co. as a marketing trainee before going to work at IBM, where he sold auto parts inventory. He launched UCS after leaving IBM.

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“I wrote the first parts inventory package in the evenings, and then went out and sold it,” Brockman wrote on his personal website, now deactivated. “I actually sold in the daytime, programmed at night, and processed on the weekend.”

Brockman’s smaller UCS merged with then-publicly traded Reynolds and Reynolds in 2006 for $2.8 billion, a transaction that took Reynolds and Reynolds private.

He was indicted on 39 counts, including tax evasion, wire fraud, evidence tampering and money laundering. Prosecutors allege Brockman used offshore bank accounts to hide income from investments in private equity funds through Vista Equity Partners, and that he fraudulently obtained nearly $68 million in Reynolds and Reynolds debt securities between 2008 and 2010.

He pleaded not guilty to the charges.

In September 2021, the IRS assessed Brockman for $1.4 billion, related to taxes it said he owed from 2004 to 2018.

The case is pending in U.S. District Court and Tax Court, and the battle against his estate could last years.

Donald Foss, who founded one of the nation’s largest subprime auto lenders, died Aug. 11 of complications of cancer, according to a news release. He was 78.

Foss founded Credit Acceptance Corp. in 1972, five years after opening a car dealership in Detroit, according to a news release from the company announcing his death.

His straightforward idea was to sell to customers who could not qualify for traditional financing.

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“His business model was truly innovative and led to him eventually becoming one of the largest used-car dealers in the world,” said the release from Credit Acceptance, which had a market capitalization of about $7.4 billion at the time of his death.

Foss retired from Credit Acceptance in 2017. Forbes put his net worth at around $2 billion.

Steve Pitt, the longtime organizer of the annual National Automobile Dealers Association convention, died Aug. 13 of a brain hemorrhage just days before his 76th birthday.

After joining NADA in 1974, Pitt planned 48 conventions for the association before retiring this year. As senior vice president of NADA’s conventions and expositions group, he directed the annual NADA Show, where he booked and stage-managed speakers such as former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and former U.S. presidents, including George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton, among other famous celebrities, politicians and business executives.

Under Pitt’s direction, the NADA Show expanded from about 10,000 attendees and 140,000 square feet of exhibit space to more than 20,000 attendees and 700,000-plus square feet of space.

Tom Pappert, a longtime Chrysler sales executive who earned a reputation as an outspoken advocate for dealers both during and after his tenure, died Aug. 29 after a three-year battle with cancer. He was 82.

Pappert, a native of Pittsburgh, joined Chrysler in 1962 as a trainee in a regional sales office in his hometown. He was one of the few top Chrysler executives to remain when Lee Iacocca was recruited to become CEO and stayed on through the automaker’s first brush with bankruptcy in 1979. He became the company’s head of sales in 1980, a job he held until he retired in 1998.

During his tenure, Pappert focused on improving customer experience and led development of Chrysler’s Customer One initiative that sought to change the company’s culture from the bottom up in preparation for the launch of the company’s cab-forward LH cars in 1992.

“We were pretty sure we couldn’t sell new cars to new customers using old methods,” Pappert said at the 1994 Automotive News World Congress. “We had a vehicle change coming, and we needed a culture change to go with it.”

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He offered dealers lucrative incentives to raise their customer service scores, and advocated a team approach between the factory and its dealer network — one that didn’t rely on factory sticks like minimum sales responsibility.

Queen Elizabeth II, who died Sept. 8 at 96 as Britain’s longest-reigning monarch, did not build vehicles, design them or sell them — although she did serve as a truck mechanic as a teenager during World War II.

What she did do was remind the world — constantly through her reign — that British cars were an emblem of refined luxury worthy of royalty.

The current term for the late queen might be “influencer.”

The Rolls-Royces and Bentleys that carried her and the royal family to ceremonies and state events were globally broadcasted reminders of top-pinnacle luxury.

At the same time, images of her behind the wheel of her rugged Land Rovers over the hilly off-road terrain of her royal estate in Scotland — often driving alone — conveyed a brand image of fearless vehicle technology and unquestionable safety.

She was known to love a good British car — particularly wagons, called estates in the UK. For a long time, one of the queen’s favorite cars was a very ordinary 1961 Vauxhall Cresta station wagon, which she was often pictured driving.

In 2015, she was photographed behind the wheel of a Jaguar X-Type midsize wagon. It was a PR feather in Jaguar’s cap, except that Her Majesty was driving a well-maintained but out-of-date model that had been developed back when Jag was owned by Ford — and also one that had been a sales flop for Jaguar dealers.

She kept what she liked. Six years later, she was photographed driving the same X-Type, one of the last public photographs of her at the wheel.

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Trained to drive military trucks during the war, the Queen did not hesitate to take the wheel throughout her life.

One famous anecdote found her in 2003 giving Prince Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, the country’s future king, a tour of the 50,000-acre Scottish estate at Balmoral in a Land Rover Defender.

The prince was taken by surprise when the Queen took the wheel to do the driving herself, running at full speed across the estate’s bumpy country roads.

As the story goes, the prince implored the queen to concentrate on her driving rather than chatting. Years later, she would welcome King Abdullah back to Britain, but this time to be chauffeured through London in one of her more stately vehicles.

Mauro Forghieri, legendary Ferrari designer and engineer, died Nov. 2 at age 87.

The legendary race car designer followed in his father’s footsteps to Ferrari, joining in 1959 as an apprentice, according to a statement by Formula 1. But at age 27, following a walkout by many of the automaker’s top designers and engineers, Forghieri was named head of Ferrari’s racing department, according to The Official Ferrari Magazine. He would go on to create the cars that, between 1963 and 1987, would win 11 world championships, according to the magazine.

Along the way, he designed an aluminum monocoque chassis that was the first use of the technology in a Ferrari F1 car.

He also created the transversal automatic gear and gave Ferrari its first turbocharged engine.

In the late 1980s, he joined Lambor- ghini, which had been acquired by Chrysler under CEO Lee Iacocca. There, he designed the naturally aspirated Lamborghini 3512 V-12 engine that ran in the 1989 Brazilian Grand Prix.

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Eric Peterson, a former U.S. vice president of diversity relations for General Motors, died Nov. 4 at age 70.

He spent much of his career of more than 40 years helping minorities and women become auto dealers. He joined GM in 1976 in its Buick division and held positions that propelled him to the rank of vice president.

Under his guidance, GM was an industry leader of diversity and inclusion efforts.

Commenting at the time of Peterson’s retirement in 2016, Damon Lester, president of the National Association of Minority Automobile Dealers, described him as a “champion” and “trailblazer” for diversity.

Gene Arbaugh, a Baltimore fleet executive, was an early proponent of the industry’s fleet leasing opportunity, as well as an early champion of seat belt safety and inclusive hiring practices. He died of respiratory illness Nov. 18 at age 84.

A standout high school baseball player, Arbaugh was talked out of signing with a farm team for the Kansas City Athletics at age 17 by his mother, who urged him to get a college education.

Later, as a law school graduate in 1964, Arbaugh joined the legal department of the New Jersey finance and fleet management services company Peterson, Howell and Heather, later known as PHH Corp. That company would grow from fewer than 200 employees to more than 2,500 as Arbaugh rose through the executive ranks and became president.

He led the $134 million acquisition of Avis Leasing’s domestic fleet operation, and later negotiated PHH’s sale to Cendant Corp. He retired in 2009.

Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story used an incorrect photo with the Arbaugh obituary. The photo is now correct.

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Michael McGrath Sr., a Chicago retailer who opened that area’s first Lexus dealership, died Nov. 28. He was 75.

McGrath began his automotive career working for his father at the family’s McGrath Buick in Elgin, Ill. The younger McGrath struck out on his own in his late 20s, acquiring a number of franchises that he operated under the umbrella of Heritage Auto Village.

He later sold that group to Currie Motors Group and stepped away from the business.

But in the late 1980s, opportunity with an unproven new brand brought him back for an Act II. McGrath and his friend and partner Ronnie Colosimo were awarded a franchise outside Chicago for the new Japanese luxury brand Lexus. That operation led to a second franchise in downtown Chicago, followed by two Acura dealerships, a Honda store and a Hyundai dealership. McGrath Automotive Group is now run by two of his sons.

Vikram Kirloskar, vice chairman of Toyota Motor Corp.’s India unit, died of a heart attack Nov. 29, the company said. He was 64.

Kirloskar was instrumental in bringing the Japanese carmaker to India. Toyota’s India business unit is a joint venture with Kirloskar Group, a 134-year-old family-owned conglomerate with interests in automotive, exports, pumps, engines and electric motors.

Kirloskar, a graduate of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, was a veteran of India’s automobile industry whose profile on Twitter called him a “passionate engineer.”

A strong advocate of addressing climate change, Kirloskar played a key role in introducing Toyota’s hybrid technology in India while also building a supply chain for electrified components in the country. Toyota has shifted its strategy in India to double down on hybrid vehicles, a technology it pioneered with the Prius, even as some other automakers look to make a direct transition to battery electric vehicles.

India’s road transport minister Nitin Gadkari said on Twitter that Kirloskar’s efforts helped India move toward cleaner and greener fuels.

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Denny Amrhein, an Ohio dealer, died in a one-vehicle crash on I-75 in suburban Toledo on Dec. 2. He was 73.

He started in the industry at 19 and eventually became owner of two of what are now Stellantis dealerships in the Toledo area — Grogan’s Towne Chrysler-Jeep-Dodge-Ram and Charlie’s Chrysler-Dodge-Jeep-Ram. Amrhein was featured by Automotive News in 2018 for his used-vehicle strategy to successfully navigate the Great Recession.

His career began as a salesman at Papenhagen Oldsmobile in Toledo, where he became one of the top Oldsmobile salespeople nationwide. He then became a Ford dealer in Wauseon, Ohio, west of Toledo, and in 1990, a partner in Grogan’s Towne Dodge. He later added Charlie’s Dodge-Chrysler-Jeep-Ram in Maumee, Ohio.

In the 2018 interview with Automotive News, Amrhein urged fellow dealers to shore up their profit pictures with more used-car business.

“I’ve been in this business my whole life — since I was 19 — and I’ve been through all kinds of ups and downs, but there was never nothing that matched ’08-’09,” Amrhein recalled from his office off the showroom of Grogan’s Towne Chrysler-Jeep-Dodge- Ram. “It was the toughest time I’ve ever been through in my career.”

He told the newspaper that during the recession, a store manager had encouraged him to consider a strategy that was working well for Cox Automotive Group.

“In 2008-09, right during the recession, my used-car manager came with a new philosophy of turning cars in 30 days — 60 days max,” Amrhein said. “We weren’t into making a lot of money on the cars —we were into turning them, so we could turn our cash fast.”

Amrhein said that even in the heart of the deepest recession in decades, Grogan’s Towne went from selling 60 used cars a month to turning 150-175 a month.

Jim Ellis, 90, a Georgia dealer and founder of his namesake auto group, died Dec. 9, just weeks after his son Jimmy Ellis, the company’s CEO, died.

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It was a double blow to the Ellis family and the company, a retail group built through determination.

Growing up in North Georgia, Jim Ellis worked a range of jobs to get ahead, including farm work, a milk and paper route, insurance work and a stint as a prison foreman, according to his obituary.

In 1971, he and his wife Billie Sammons Ellis, who survives him, cashed in their savings and her retirement fund and took out a loan to open an auto dealership — Jim Ellis Volkswagen.

That dealership grew into several stores, and Jim Ellis Automotive now sells 17 brands of automobiles in the Atlanta area.

His son Jimmy Ellis took over as CEO of the company in 2015 and served until his death Nov. 5.

He was 67.

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