Charleston area 'represents' on top dealer lists

A badge of honor for auto dealerships relates to earning top achievements from the brands they sell, usually in the form of a trophy for overall excellence.

Based on ads placed in trade publications such as Automotive News, there were a number of Charleston area winners for the past year.

Among them, Hendrick Honda of Charleston was one of 173 dealerships named in the 2013 Honda President's Award. The award recognized dealers "who consistently excel across all facets of their operation," according to American Honda Motor Co. Inc. The list of the five honored Honda dealerships in South Carolina also included Stokes Honda Cars of Beaufort - a first-time honoree. Stokes has its headquarters in the Charleston area.

The dealership took another honor, right in its home town. Stokes Volkswagen in North Charleston was a 2013 Customer First Club champion from VW, one of 60 nationwide. Winners were praised for "engineering superior customer experiences (and) superior customer service." William E. Stokes runs the Rivers Avenue dealership.

Also, Rick Hendrick Dodge Chrysler Jeep in Charleston was among 34 winners of the 2013 Walter P. Chrysler Club award. Rick Hendrick was cited as dealership owner. The automaker considers the award "the ultimate accolade in terms of overall vehicle and Mopar (Chrysler brand parts and products) sales performance."

Dash of Clemson for automotive boot camp

An Upstate automotive research center will design lessons for backers of a program that helps promote advanced technologies for the car industry.

The Spring Hill, Tenn.-based autoXLR8R program said it is teaming this year with Clemson University's International Center for Automotive Research (CU-ICAR).

"This partnership with CU-ICAR will allow autoXLR8R aspiring companies to receive additional hands-on training and instruction from some incredibly qualified industry experts and local specialists," said Jack Sisk, autoXLR8R program manager.

Clemson's auto research center consists of an "advanced-technology research campus where education, research and economic development intersect to create a global venue for the automotive industry," according to a release announcing the partnership.

"Some of the talented individuals at Clemson will help facilitate the program during the two weeks that we spend in South Carolina, and I'm excited to work with them to develop a well-planned agenda," Sisk said.

The autoXLR8R program runs a 13-week, mentor-driven entrepreneurial "boot camp" to help bring automotive technologies to market. Clemson will help craft the program's curriculum for weeks eight and 10 of the 13-week itinerary, according to autoXLR8R.

During its inaugural program last year, autoXLR8R companies visited the Clemson center during a "tech tour" as one of several stops throughout the southeast, the Tennessee venture said.

Selected autoXLR8R companies are tentatively scheduled to travel to Clemson twice in July. Company founders will engage with local specialists, industry experts and venture capitalists, the firm said.

"Our experience with autoXLR8R last year left us wanting to be involved even more in 2014," said Suzanne Dickerson, CU-ICAR's director of international business development. "The partnership will benefit both organizations, and we look forward to putting our stamp on the accelerator for two full weeks," she says.

The autoXLR8R will be May 19-Aug. 15. Demo Day, which features pitch presentations to potential investors, will be held on Aug. 12.

Initial equity investments up to $25,000 will be available to companies accepted into the program. Also, investors will consider offering the most promising companies additional financing up to $100,000.

For more information visit autoXLR8R.com, or contact Tara Bennett at tara@autoxlr8r.com.

Clemson University's International Center for Automotive Research (CU-ICAR) is a 250-acre advanced-technology research campus where university, industry and government organizations collaborate. It offers the nation's first PhD program in Automotive Engineering.