LAS VEGAS – Gary Gilchrist planned to become a veterinarian. But a friend urged him to give selling cars a shot.
That was 47 years ago. He’s now the 2024 chairman of the National Automobile Dealers Assn.
“I never thought I’d be here,” Gilchrist says just before taking the reins of the trade group at its recent annual convention here. “I’m truly passionate about this business. I’m absolutely thrilled to be here.”
Gilchrist is a third-generation dealer. His grandfather, a Scottish immigrant, ran a Studebaker store.
After working for his father, Gary Gilchrist and his brother John opened their own store, Gilchrist Chevrolet Buick GMC in Tacoma, WA. John died of cancer in 2020.
“My brother was my best friend,” Gilchrist says at the American Financial Services Assn.’s annual automotive conference held in conjunction with the NADA Show.
And, no, the new NADA chairman is not related to Charlie Gilchrist, a Texas dealer who was NADA’s 2019 chairman.
“We kid each other,” Gilchrist tells WardsAuto. “He calls me his father and I call him my son.”
His actual son is learning the car business, gradually taking on more responsibility at the family store. The elder Gilchrist says that allows him more time to engage with other dealers, one of the duties of an NADA chairman.
He credits his success as a dealer to looking at things through the eyes of customers.
The march toward a battery-electric-vehicle world was a hot topic at the NADA gathering. Part of the discussion revolved around what many dealers consider too-aggressive U.S. government emission regulations, which aim to speed up the mass-market adoption of electric vehicles.
Gilchrist favors a more measured approach.
“It takes some time; EV sales are better in some states than others,” he says, adding that most of his customers aren’t particularly interested in buying EVs.
He sees hybrid and plug-in electric hybrids as vehicles that can smooth a transition to all-electric. “Let’s not jump from A to Z. We need to stick together for the benefit of customers.”
His advice to fellow dealers is to be transparent.
Gilchrist has an unusual hobby: He raises oysters. They are a hit with visitors to his Pacific Northwest beach home. “I’ll raise 1,600 a year. We’ll start eating them in June. By August, they’re gone.”