Bill Lehman Jr. moved his family’s Lehman Dealership Enterprises into the hands of an Oregon-based national company, ditching the Miami business that his father, a former US congressman, had started there. 86 years old.
Lehman, 81, and his family sold their auto sales business for an undisclosed amount to publicly traded Lithia Motors & Driveway, culminating seven months of negotiations, Lehman said in an interview this week.
The sale includes all eight Lehman locations: Honda, Genesis, Hyundai, Kia, Mitsubishi, Buick, GMC, Subaru dealerships in Florida City, Doral, North Miami and Miami Gardens. Lithia plans to keep the 500 employees and the Lehman name on the auto showrooms.
The transaction closes a chapter that began with Lehman’s father and company namesake, William Lehman. He opened a dealership in 1936 in North Miami, while working as a high school teacher. The business then struggled to survive, when Lehman’s father entered the political arena in the early 1970s.
The elder Lehman represented Miami-Dade County for 20 years in the United States House of Representatives, advocating on behalf of Haitian migrants and for better local transportation. Prior to his death in 2005, the section of State Route 856 from Biscayne Boulevard in Aventura to Collins Avenue in Sunny Isles Beach was named the William Lehman Causeway in his honor.
His son joined the family business in 1967 after earning an MBA from Harvard University. The young Lehman oversaw the company’s dealership expansion and started the auto leasing company William Lehman Leasing and the subprime car lending business Affiliated Financial Corporation.
In 2021, Lehman affiliates generated $900 million in sales, and financing from retail and lease contracts totaled more than $40 million, Lehman said.
With the sale, Lehman said he was saving time away from the office — while still retaining William Lehman Leasing and Affiliated Financial Corporation — to spend time with his 13 grandchildren and visit national parks.
The acquisition gives Lithia eight additional dealership locations in South Florida, in addition to its existing dealership in Coral Gables. Given the expansion of businesses in Miami, Lithia is betting on newcomers needing a car, said Tom Dobry, vice president of marketing for Lithia Driveway. The company’s automotive dealership network now includes 290 locations in the United States and Canada, all managed by CEO Bryan Deboer, grandson of the company’s founder.
Little stands in the way of the company’s goal of being “within 100 miles of every American home,” Dobry said, despite inflation, car shortages, gas prices, the popularity of ride-sharing apps and people working from home.
“Although there are many people who have changed their driving habits, many continue to drive for work and for pleasure,” Dobry said. “New car dealerships are selling their inventory.”
The transaction is a sign of a healthy local economy, said David Menachof, associate professor in the College of Business at Florida Atlantic University.
“It’s a good sign,” Menachof said. “A purchase like this means they’re in it for the long haul and want to see their investment grow over the years.”
In addition to his two remaining businesses, Lehman said he will remain on the boards of the Museum of Contemporary Art in North Miami — a museum his father helped open with a $2.5 million grant from the US Department of Housing and Urban Development – and the Greater Jewish Federation of Miami.