After 32 years in the auto industry, Leonard Harrington, owner of Gilroy Nissan and Gilroy Hyundai, has seen fortunes rise and fall, but with low gas prices and a fleet of economical cars that are made for the everyday commuter, the future is bright.
“This is a tough business, under the best circumstances,” said Harrington as he shared the story of how he got into the car game. “But we worked hard and I have always been a risk-taker.”
In 1985, Harrington was in his late 20s with a wife and two small children living in his hometown of Stockton. They had owned a couple Italian restaurants in the area, but the late nights and other stresses of the food business were taking a toll on the young family.
“I was looking for a better way to provide for my family when I met some guys that sold cars,” said Harrington. “It seemed interesting, and I did well.”
His wife was also relieved.
“When I got into the car business, the hours are long, but I remember she asked: ‘What time will you get home at night?’ When I said, ‘9,’ well, she thought that was great. Because the restaurant business can keep you going until midnight—it just depends.”
The couple would go on to own and operate a Dodge-Chrysler-Jeep franchise in Turlock for 15 years.
After going out of business in 2008, Harrington came on board as a minority partner at the Hyundai-Nissan franchise in Gilroy in 2009.
In 2011, he bought out his partner’s stake in the business and moved the Hyundai dealership across the street to its current location, the former site of Gilroy Honda before it changed its name and moved to Morgan Hill.
“It is a great spot, right on the corner, good visibility and right next to Toyota, which is great for us,” added Harrington.
He bought the building a year later and by the end of 2015, had finished a major renovation of the property.
“We expanded the building, changed the entire outside façade and gutted the inside and started from scratch. It is almost a new building,” he said.
Business is going well, too. According to the latest sales tax figures for the city, auto sales represent the largest gains for the city of Gilroy.
“Gas is not very expensive right now,” said Harrington. And for Gilroy commuters, his range of cars are compelling.
“Only 20 percent of the people who live in Gilroy, work in Gilroy. So, it is a bedroom community and there is a lot of commuting going on,” he said. “Nissan has a great reputation for styling on cars, it’s current and modern. They are dependable, don’t break much and across the line, gas mileage is incredible.
“If you are going north, comfort and economy is pretty important,” he added.
In Gilroy, top-selling models by volume are the Altima, Sentra and Rogue.
While Nissan’s electric car, the Leaf, is not flying off the lot in Gilroy, Green Car Reports put it as the “best-selling plug-in vehicle in history.” The 200,000th Leaf was sold somewhere in the world in January.
Harrington said the Leaf does bring people to the showroom door.
“It’s been a great draw for the brand because it’s different, it gets you in to look, but then you see that the Altima gets 36 mpg or the Sentra gets 38 mpg; the whole family of cars is economical.”
For shoppers looking for a great deal, it seems Gilroy Auto Mall cannot be beat.
“Being around other car dealers, customers have an advantage to compare and shop, which helps all of us,” said Harrington. “They have one central spot where they can look at a number of brands, from Toyota to Dodge-Chrysler-Jeep, Hyundai-Nissan, Chevrolet, Cadillac—you can see a lot of brands and a huge selection of used cars.”