For the love of automobiles
Published: Sunday, January 22, 2012 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, January 19, 2012 at 8:13 p.m.
Mark Wyant loves cars.
Occupation: General manager, Gainesville Chevrolet-Cadillac-Mazda
Personal: Married 44 years, two daughters, four grandchildren
Pet: Black cocker spaniel named Harley
Dream partners for lunch: Lee Iacocca and John DeLorean
Favorite book: “Success Through a Positive Mental Attitude” by Napoleon Hill and W. Clement Stone
Last book read: “Results Rule!” by Randy Pennington
Favorite movie: “American Graffiti”
Last movie seen: “Moneyball”
Playing in his car: ‘50s and ‘60s music on XM Radio
Hobbies: Classic cars
Education: General Motors University Dealers School
That's what led him straight into auto sales nearly 40 years ago after serving with the Navy in Vietnam.
The Iowa native started as a salesman in Rockford, Ill. For the past six years, he has served as general manager of Gainesville Chevrolet-Cadillac-Mazda.
He has seen the technology go from the days when wiper switches were on the dash and dimmer switches on the floor to today's navigation systems, onboard computers and Bluetooth capability. He has seen the stereos go from AM to FM radio, eight-track, cassette and CD players to satellite radio.
He uses the modern technology — XM Radio — to listen to '50s and '60s music in his own car.
"It's American heritage," he said, his phone occasionally interrupting with an "aaOoga" car horn sound.
"It's the passion for automobiles with all people. The American automobile is the American flag. I dated my wife in old cars, classic cars."
Wyant — whose wife cares for three grandchildren with severe autism — hosts an annual classic car show to raise money for the University of Florida Center for Autism and Related Disabilities, last year raising more than $13,000. This year's event will be held at Gainesville Chevrolet on April 14 and will show off more than 150 cars, including Wyant's jet black '46 Ford and '56 Chevrolet.
His career has taken him from Illinois to Panama City to be near his in-laws and work for a Lincoln-Mercury-Dodge dealership. In 1984, Lee Iacocca, head of Chrysler, presented him with an award as one of the company's Top 20 sales managers in the country.
From there, he went to Marianna, where he became a partner in Rahal-Wyant Chevrolet. After buying three more dealerships, he sold out in 1991 and moved to Gainesville, where his daughter was an intern at the VA hospital.
He was sales manager at the former Paul West Ford for 15 years before moving to Gainesville Chevrolet to work for owners Rick and Shannon Davis of Alachua six years ago.
At the time, the dealership carried Chevrolet only. Since then, it has picked up Suzuki, added Cadillac and Saab when the Brasington dealership closed four years ago, and added Mazda three years ago. It has sold its Suzuki and Saab franchises back to the manufacturers. The GM dealer also does warranty work for Saturn.
The dealership is being remodeled to GM's new nationwide design and plans are to build a separate Cadillac showroom by mid-year.
Wyant oversees about 75 employees and a stock of more than 100 used vehicles of all makes, 100 Chevrolets, 60 Mazdas and 20 Cadillacs.
"We have everything from the very inexpensive (Chevrolet) Sonic or Mazda3 to a Cadillac ESV Escalade and everything in between," he said.
The dealership's GM sales were up 13 percent last year compared to 7 percent for GM as a whole, and he said he expects 2012 to be strong for all manufacturers as consumer confidence seems to be improving.
A ubiquitous presence in the dealership's advertising, Wyant said he is recognized everywhere he goes.
"It gives a face to Gainesville Chevrolet," he said. "My door is always open and I shake hands with most every customer that comes in the dealership. I think that one person, that contact person, is very important for customer satisfaction."