The Pohanka family has a long history with NADA. In fact, both the Pohanka family’s business and NADA started around the same time.
Frank S. Pohanka opened his first dealership in Washington, D.C., in 1919—just two years after NADA was founded. “I have a long family connection with NADA and I know the organization inside out,” says Geoffrey Pohanka, Frank’s grandson and the 2023 NADA chairman. “When my dad took over the business in 1959, the NADA headquarters was three blocks away from the dealership.”
Pohanka’s father, John, went on to become the NADA director for Maryland and, in 1976, NADA chairman. “Giving back to NADA is in our family history going way back to the 1950s,” says Pohanka.
Building a Business
Pohanka was 13 when he began working in his family’s dealerships during summers in the 1970s. He attended Colgate University and planned to attend business school, but his father recommended he work two years full-time in the dealership first (Oldsmobile-Honda-Fiat). “We sold a lot of cars but had a very poor service department, which nearly drove me from the business,” Pohanks says. “When I told my father I wanted to do something else, he asked if I would attend a monthlong training program at the General Motors Institute in Flint, Michigan. There, I wrote a comprehensive report about what my father needed to do to ‘fix his business,’ and then I would move on. My father liked my report so much he offered to put me in charge of the fixed operations to implement the changes, which I accepted and did. So here we are today.”
Today, the Pohanka Automotive Group has 20 locations in Maryland, Virginia and Texas, and ranked 34th on Automotive News’ 2021 list of the nation’s top 150 dealership groups. And the fourth and fifth generations of the family are now working at the dealership group, including two of Pohanka’s children—daughter Laura and son Kevin.
Working With NADA
Like his father, Pohanka became involved with the Washington Area New Automobile Dealers Association (WANADA), ascending to chairman in 1998 and serving as chairman of WANADA’s Washington, D.C., Auto Show in 2016.
Pohanka originally served on the NADA board from 2001 to 2009 but left to relocate three of his legacy dealerships. He returned to the board in 2015 and has served as chairman of the Industry Relations Committee.
Pohanka was elected vice chairman of NADA in 2022 and represents Washington, D.C.-area dealers on the NADA Board of Directors.
“It is important that dealers give back to our industry,” Pohanka says. “My skill sets are the right ones for the times and the many challenges that our industry faces. I bring a lot of retail experience but also experience working with manufacturers and politicians.”
Among the challenges Pohanka will tackle as 2023 chairman are combating regulations that harm the business, bolstering auto retail’s transition to electric vehicles, and strengthening the relationship between manufacturers and auto dealers, including the use and sharing of customer data—addressed by NADA’s new Guiding Principles.
“One of the biggest challenges we face is around messaging,” says Pohanka. “Basically, car dealers and manufacturers want the same thing—sell a lot of cars and take care of customers—but we don’t go about it the same way and we don’t understand each other completely.”
As for electric vehicles, Pohanka is all-in and is currently driving his third EV—a Volkswagen ID-4. “When dealers started asking questions about electrification, people thought we were opposing it,” he says. “We’re not opposed. We’re concerned about affordability and the charging infrastructure.”
As someone with deep roots in the Washington, D.C., area, Pohanka says he is uniquely qualified to lead NADA and the auto dealer body. “I’ve been involved in industry and government relations for a long time and I understand how things work.
“We’ve had challenges from government and others, but we have a lot of strengths, including our community involvement,” Pohanka adds. “We’re consumer focused, adjust to changing situations, and there’s resiliency in the franchise system. People outside the franchise system don’t recognize the strength we have in terms
of what we do so well.”
Number of years Pohanka has worked in the auto retail business
Year Pohanka’s grandfather Frank S. Pohanka opened the family’s first dealership in Washington, D.C.
Year Pohanka served as chairman of the Washington Area New Automobile Dealers Association
Number of employees at Pohanka Automotive Group
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