- The Washington Times - Friday, August 17, 2007

Pohanka Automotive

THE WASHINGTON TIMES

The country was a place of opportunity in the early part of the 20th century, especially for the millions living around New York City. Bronx resident Frank Pohanka saw opportunity as a professional jockey, and in 1911 he began pursuing a racing career — until he got older, heavier and had a desire to settle down. The field of auto mechanics, at the time brand new, intrigued him, and he read everything on the subject available. That led him to a job with General Motors and eventually to work as service manager at a GM-owned Chevrolet dealership in the District in 1916.

There, he worked with a sales manager named Bennie Ourisman, founder of today’s Ourisman Auto Group. He was introduced to influential businessmen in the area, including Howard W. Phillips, a respected local financier and insurance broker. Mr. Phillips helped Mr. Pohanka set up a repair shop on Ward Place. In 1919, Mr. Pohanka became a sub-dealer for Barry Pate Chevrolet, setting up successful operations on L Street NW.


In 1923, Mr. Pohanka acquired an Oldsmobile franchise and moved his operation to 1126 20th St. NW. Next door was the Blue Mouse movie theater, which Mr. Pohanka remodeled into a showroom and called the business “Pohanka Service.”

In those days, service was far more important than new-car sales, and only those who could keep their customers’ cars running were successful. That quality kept Pohanka Service prosperous during the Depression, allowing Mr. Pohanka to provide for his family.

The dealership continued to operate during World War II even though no cars were produced, and afterward Mr. Pohanka enjoyed the sellers’ market of the late 1940s. Elder son Frank came into the business after the war, as did son John when he graduated from Princeton in 1949.

The family flourished in the car business throughout the 1950s. John Pohanka became General Manager in 1956 and bought out his brother’s share of the company in 1961, three years after Mr. Pohanka’s death.

John Pohanka loves the business. He said he foresaw the appeal and eventual influx of foreign cars into the market and acquired a Fiat franchise in 1956 after attempts to get a Volkswagen franchise. At that time, he was the only dealer selling both domestic and import cars out of the same store. He observed the buying trends of the 1960s, relocating his business to Marlow Heights to follow the exodus to the suburbs. In 1976, he was able to acquire a Honda franchise, and today the Pohanka name appears on 21 franchises in the region.

Honda, Hyundai, Chevrolet, Cadillac, Acura, Toyota, Scion, Saturn, Nissan, Mercedes-Benz, Mazda, Lexus, Isuzu, Dodge and Chrysler are all represented by the Pohanka Automotive Group.

The fourth generation of the Pohanka family now works in the business and wants to see a second century of operations.

John Pohanka attributes the company’s success to the emphasis on taking care of its customers and providing good service — a tradition established by his father in the early years.

John Pohanka is very proud of his accomplishments on the retail side, and he’s equally proud of his involvement with the National Automobile Dealers’ Association and his work in the 1970s to establish a certification program for automotive technicians.

That led to the Automotive Service Excellence certification, respected nationwide.