Lehmer’s Concord Buick-GMC: California Dealer Embraces History
In 1936 Jesse Owens won four gold medals at the Olympics, you could buy a new Oldsmobile for $665 and Erv Lehmer’s used car dealership in Concord, California got their franchise from General Motors to sell Oldsmobiles. Much has changed in the world since 1936, but the Lehmer family continues to sell GM vehicles in Concord.
In 1938 Lehmer added the GMC truck franchise to his dealership and has been selling GMC models ever since.
Erv’s daughter Carolyn has been around the dealership since she was born. She worked there during the summers when she was still in high school and after college she started full-time. Carolyn says, “I worked in the office, because girls worked in the office in those days. But I became a dealer in 1987.” Today she runs the show at Lehmer’s Concord Buick-GMC along with her husband Russ Anderson and their son Darren.
Russ took a winding path into the car business. When he was 18 years old he joined the navy and became an engine man on submarines. He remembers, “I liked GM just because our submarine diesels were 1,600-horsepower GM diesels that were first built for World War II.” After leaving the sea he came back to California and joined the fire department. He also met his future wife Carolyn at Mel’s Diner (made famous in the movie “American Graffiti”.) He would drive used cars from his father-in-law’s dealership to his firefighter job and he would often sell the car he was driving to an interested customer. Finally the chief told him to choose between firefighting and the car business, and Russ ended up as a salesman at Lehmer’s. After seven years at Lehmer’s Russ became general manager of another GM dealership in nearby Walnut Creek, spending 21 years there before eventually returning to Lehmer’s as general manager.
The Chief Financial Officer (CFO) at the dealership is Darren Anderson; representing the next generation of the Lehmer Anderson family to take a leadership role. He acknowledges foreign brands the market share leaders in San Francisco Bay area, but he likes the new products coming from GM today and he’s hopeful about the future. Darren says his customers are returning to GM brands years of loyalty to other brands. “We’re seeing more conquest (sales) this year than we have in several years.”
Carolyn Lehmer Anderson says, “My father believed in American cars. Before the imports really got a foothold in our area he was offered the Honda franchise. He said, ‘I’m not going to sell foreign cars. We’re going to sell American cars.’ So that’s why we’ve stayed with American cars all the time.” She admits selling vehicles from U.S. brands is difficult today in the import-oriented Bay area, but she believes in the vehicles she sells. “Our cars are better than those, the imports,” she says.
Carolyn has seen a lot of changes over her years in the car business. “Our mechanics used to be the technicians under the hood working on the cars. Now our techs are all computer savvy. Everything is computerized”
Lehmer’s Concord Buick-GMC is proud of its history. Photos depicting its nearly 75 years as a GM dealer hang on the wall above the showroom floor and it’s not unusual to see Erv’s first trade-in, a 1939 Oldsmobile, taking a spot on the showroom floor to emphasize the dealership’s long history and relationship with GM. During a special event last month the dealership had the GMC Granite concept vehicle on the floor, an indication that it’s looking to a future with more groundbreaking products from Buick and GMC.