Microphone in hand, Tommy Baker described for dozens of clients and friends the origins of the Charleston car company that bears his name.
It was 1988, and he had bought Langston Motors import car dealership. Tucked along Morrison Drive, the outlet would grow steadily. Over time it would morph into Baker Motor Co., which today spans 11 new car dealerships along the Savannah Highway. But he started with one brand: Mercedes-Benz. “They took us to the dance,” he said.
Then, Baker reflected on the moment’s significance.
“If you thought we would end up in a place like this on a night like this, it’s unbelievable,” he said, looking out on the crowd attending the Oct. 24 celebration for Baker Motor Co.’s quarter-century in business.
The gala event, centered in the Baker Mercedes-Benz showroom and spread out to adjacent dealerships, won an appearance from Mercedes-Benz USA president and CEO Steve Cannon. At one point, he joined Baker, wife Vickie and their two daughters center-stage.
“There’s 20,000 (car dealerships) in the U.S.,” Cannon said, in remarks to the guests. “Mr. Baker is among the top 100. That’s an incredible accomplishment,” he said, referring to Baker Motor landing on Automotive News’ list of the 100 “Best Dealerships to Work For” this year.
Cannon also highlighted Baker Mercedes’ success in the carmaker’s Best of the Best dealership award, taking home top honors seven of the past 10 years. “That’s amazing,” he said.
Cannon, promoted to the top U.S. post for Mercedes close to two years ago, also remarked on the German manufacturer’s growing sales figures in America. “We are going to sell more than 300,000 cars for the first time this year,” he said.
Mercedes-Benz launched the redesigned S class in 2013 and this fall rolled out the entry level CLA for $29,900. “It’s a new entry point,” Cannon said.
Earlier in the evening, Cannon fielded a few questions while with Baker in his office.
“Our business is going great. It’s an exciting time,” he said, noting how Mercedes-Benz set sales record for each month through September. The new CLA, he said, brings “our brand to new people.”
He also touched on the newly remodeled Sprinter van, assembled at the Daimler factory in North Charleston.
“The U.S. will be one of the leading Sprinter growth areas,” the CEO said.
Cannon – a former marketing director with Mercedes – and Baker first met in 2007 when the Charleston entrepreneur served as chairman of the Mercedes dealership leadership board in the U.S. “A friendship developed,” Baker said.
“He’s a guy I call (as a sounding board),” Cannon said, adding that Baker is one of the few dealers he includes “on speed dial.”
Baker Motor Co. sells Mercedes-Benz, Porsche, Land Rover, Jaguar, smart, Infiniti, Sprinter and Maserati from its Savannah Highway locale, while Baker separately runs a Cadillac Buick GMC dealership on Savannah Highway and a pre-owned car center in Mount Pleasant.
Reach Jim Parker at 937-5542 or firstname.lastname@example.org.