Sterling McCall, who owned dozens of auto dealerships in the Houston area and later championed an electric car company, has died, company officials said. Two Sterling McCall dealerships in Houston are dealer affiliates for the Car Pro Show.
Group 1 Automotive, an international automobile retail company McCall cofounded, issued a statement about his death.
“Our thoughts are with the McCall family during this difficult time. Sterling was a visionary businessman and a great friend to the city of Houston,” company officials said.
The cause of death for McCall, 78, wasn’t immediately known but friends said he was with his family at the time.
Marty Collins, the president of Gulf States Toyota, a Houston-based regional distributor, said McCall routinely assisted people just starting out in the business.
“Many of them went on to have their own successful careers in the automobile business,” Collins said.
One of those McCall helped is Joey DuPuis, general manager of Sterling McCall Lexus, DuPuis began working for McCall in college.
“We’ve lost a guy who was a real giant in the retail automotive industry,” DuPuis said. “He’s been a boss and a friend and a mentor and just a special person to me.”
In later years, McCall helped DuPuis finance his own Toyota dealership. DuPuis later returned to the McCall fold after selling his dealership to Group 1.
“He was a very good man to work for,” DuPuis said.
Carroll Smith, owner of Monument Chevrolet in Pasadena, said McCall was a “bigger than life” leader in the automobile industry.
“His accomplishments were so astonishing. Everyone in the industry is respectful of what he accomplished,” Smith said.
McCall opened a Toyota dealership in 1970, well before Japanese automobiles began to dominate the U.S. market.
“He took a huge gamble on the Toyota franchise and turned into one of the largest Toyota dealerships,” DuPuis said.
In later years McCall took an interest in Tesla Motors electric cars, including becoming an owner of one.
In April, McCall wrote an opinion piece in the Houston Chronicle arguing that electric car manufacturers such as Tesla should be allowed to also sell cars directly rather than go through a dealership, as required by Texas law.
“As a 40-year franchise automobile dealer in Texas, I think it’s time we updated our laws to better embrace competition and reflect the realities of today’s marketplace,” McCall wrote.