Tommy Baker accepted plenty of platitudes at the grand opening of Charleston’s new-look Cadillac dealership, anchored by a showroom that’s as large as it is posh.
“If you met Tommy Baker, you would want to be like Tommy Baker. It’s all genuine,” said Charleston Mayor Joe Riley, one of the special guest speakers.
Yet rather than basking in the limelight, the Cadillac and Buick GMC owner spent much of his time Oct. 30 thanking friends and colleagues responsible for the new auto center.
Baker served as the event’s unofficial emcee. He introduced guest speakers such as Riley and Cadillac Southeast region sales and marketing manager Dave Fitzwater, who oversees 300 dealerships.
“I have been all over the Southeast and this is literally as nice as any (showroom) I’ve seen,” Fitzwater said, calling the building a “great luxury experience.”
All the while, Baker told a few funny stories. He praised the professionals instrumental in the Cadillac building coming to fruition. He called his mother, Mary Baker, to the stage.
He also gave credit to his predecessor Miller Cadillac. In 2011, Baker bought the dealership, a 50-plus year fixture in Mount Pleasant headed by Sumter de Brux, and consolidated operations west of the Ashley.
“When you say Cadillac, you say, ‘Miller, and the de Brux family,’” Baker said. “They are a wonderful family. We have been here a little over two years. We have to earn it.”
Strom Altman, who joined the Baker auto business eight months ago after heading Altman Dodge and later Strom Altman Suzuki, oversees the 160-employee Cadillac center as general manager.
“It’s fabulous,” Altman said, citing the building’s high-end Italian flooring and the showroom’s 12,000-square-foot size — one of the largest Cadillac showrooms in the country .
“We are open for business,” he said.
The grand opening gala showcased a number of Cadillacs, from a 1939 classic to the reconfigured, critically acclaimed 2014 CTS sedan.
Fitzwater told the dozens of Cadillac owners and guests on hand that the luxury brand’s sales rose faster this year through September than any other manufacturer.
There’s good reason, he said. The ATS, redesigned last year, won 2013 North American Car of the Year. The full-sized luxury XTS is an “unbelievable car,” Fitzwater said. “It takes a lot to impress me, but that car is very impressive to drive.”
At the same time, Cadillac “totally redesigned” the iconic Escalade SUV, set to arrive next year as a 2015 edition. “We are actually going to show it for the first time, in a month at the Miami Auto Show.”
Cadillac also plans to roll out its first electric vehicle, the ELR coupe. “It’s a gorgeous car,” he said.
Earlier, Riley toasted the new operation and the dealer behind its success.
“This is a fine person. He worked hard and created the American dream in our community,” Riley said. Citing Baker’s civic efforts such as front-and-center involvement with the College of Charleston business school, the mayor said, “It’s amazing the breadth of his activities.”
Riley also spotlighted Cadillac, the General Motors luxury mainstay built in Detroit. “It’s an all American symbol. It’s soaring, as America is soaring, on the Savannah Highway.”
Baker, who also founded and owns the companion Baker Motor Co. and its eight luxury import brands including Mercedes-Benz, acknowledged that it wasn’t always a sure thing that the new Cadillac operation would be built.
“We hung in there,” he said.
Reach Jim Parker at 937-5542 or firstname.lastname@example.org.