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WE'RE ALL ABOUT AUSTIN
Originating in 1964 as Continental Cars, a collection of import franchises, our organization is now formally called the Continental Automotive Group. We are a locally owned and family operated organization that is proud to employ over 500 individuals. Our group is comprised of four dealerships; Austin Infiniti, Austin Subaru, First Texas Honda, Mercedes-Benz of Austin, our auto body repair shop; Continental Collision Center and Wholesale Parts Direct. We are dedicated to our employees, our customers, and our city.
LOCALLY OWNED, FAMILY RUN BUSINESS
The Continental Automotive Group is one of the few remaining locally owned and operated, family-run dealership groups in town. While he has no plans to retire, Bryan Hardeman is proud to pass the reins of day-to-day management to his son Will and his daughter Genny who are working full-time for the Continental Automotive Group. His youngest daughter Joy, attended the University of Texas Law School, and is currently living in Washington DC. Mr. Hardeman’s children have provided him with an eye-opening new perspective on how people now search for and purchase cars online. He says that when the family eats dinner together now, they aren’t talking about the world or social scene anymore – they have business discussions.
Mr. Hardeman has always driven cars from his franchises and has had the opportunity to drive a car from every brand he sells. With three kids and four dogs, Mr. Hardeman is usually driving an SUV but enjoys experimenting with different makes and models. He emphasizes that the company sells a variety of cars to a variety of different people and especially encourages his children to gain some personal knowledge and experience with all of the different brands.
With its history and its future both located in Austin, the Continental Automotive Group remains focused on its role in the local business community. Even as the Internet has allowed the company to begin serving customers around the country, Mr. Hardeman emphasizes how Austin will continue to be home to the company, its owners, and its employees. Accordingly, maintaining its tradition of contributing back to the Austin community will always be an important priority of the Continental Automotive Group, and the company is extremely proud of the various local service organizations it reaches out to and supports. Continental Automotive Group also makes a point of providing its generous employees with channels for charitable giving. Each year a committee of employees chooses one or two non-profit organizations to support in connection with the annual holiday party, and the employees coordinate a company-wide fundraising effort.
EMPLOYEES & BENEFITS
The Continental Automotive Group’s outstanding employees are a great source of pride for the organization. Bryan Hardeman has always taken seriously his role in providing employees with the tools and benefits they need to stay happy and productive. Today these contributions by the company take the form of 100% company paid health insurance, full dental coverage, as of 1984 - 401K matching, and other key benefits. An additional employee benefit is the annual Christmas bonus that began around 1980 when Mr. Hardeman saw a newspaper article describing how the average family does not finishing paying for Christmas until the following May. He then decided to implement a comprehensive bonus system for every employee, based on the number of months that the employee has been with the company, to make it easier for everyone to budget for Christmas.
CAG employees who have flourished under the company’s leadership will often emphasize how the organization stands behind its employees and how Mr. Hardeman has given them the opportunity and flexibility to be successful in their positions. Talk to managers within the organization and you’ll hear over and over again: “I wouldn’t be able to do what I do if I worked anywhere else.” David Hilfer recalls a specific incident regarding a dress code. The national office of one automobile maker (an import franchise no longer owned by CAG) required its parts managers to wear a coat and tie to work. David says that he had made it a mission never to have to wear a tie to work, and, after conferring with Mr. Hardeman, maintained his casual work attire. The auto maker sent representatives to visit Mr. Hardeman, and the dress code issue (and the employees who were not in compliance) came up during the meeting. Mr. Hardeman called David into the meeting and calmly explained to the representatives how David had worked for him for many years and had performed extremely well without ever wearing a tie. Mr. Hardeman said that he was not going to fire David and also was not going to ask him to wear a tie.
Of course, happy employees are often the best evidence of a great company. There are multiple employees who were working at Continental Cars when he purchased it in 1978 who are still fulfilling important full-time positions with the Continental Automotive Group.
There are also many other employees who have been with the company for 15, 20, or 30 years. In fact, some amazing evidence of the organization’s great working environment is that the average length of employment for a current CAG employee is an incredible 17 years! The number of families employed with the Continental Automotive Group is another testament to the company’s human resources success. About 1 out of 5 current CAG employees have a relative who is working here or has worked here in the past.
Continental Cars, Inc. is a Texas Corporation incorporated in August of 1966. Its major stockholders at that time were Harry Peterson and Peyton “Dab” Cauley. The assets of the corporation were purchased from another automobile corporation whose history of retailing imported sports cars dates back to 1957.
At this time, Continental Cars, Inc. included Austin’s only authorized Mercedes-Benz franchise, along with other franchises such as Jaguar, MG, Austin Marina, Triumph, Alfa Romeo, Toyota, and BMW. This dealer group was originally located in downtown Austin on the corner of West 6th and San Antonio. It was around this time that Bryan Hardeman became involved with Continental Cars – not as a businessman, but as a customer. While he was a high school student at St. Stephen’s Episcopal School here in Austin, Mr. Hardeman decided to purchase a 1966 MG from Continental Cars, but without the permission of his parents. Hiding the car in a garage downtown didn’t solve the issue, and, after the check he wrote eventually found its way back to his parents, Mr. Hardeman had to return the vehicle.
We currently have one employee who has been here since the inception of Continental Cars, Inc. Danny Ramirez, a technician at Mercedes-Benz of Austin who started with Continental Cars in 1966, says that "Continental Cars has changed considerably since we opened. We use to only have a handful of employees and now we have over 500. We use to be a multi vehicle dealership all combined into one. As cars rolled into the shop you never knew what you were going to be working on." In 1968, the government passed auto emissions regulations that each technician will have to be certified and trained on EACH particular make they were working on. Since Continental Cars worked on 6-8 different makes we would have to be trained in ALL manufactures. This is when they decided to split everyone up into particular auto groups. Danny stuck with Mercedes-Benz and retired from Mercedes-Benz of Austin in 2012.
Jim Olmstead worked in the parts department at Continental Cars, and would often drive a truck downtown to the Greyhound bus station to pick up the parts shipments. On July 28, 1971, Jim picked up a box that said “Honda” on it and remembers being confused; he knew that Honda sold motorcycles but had never heard of a Honda automobile. What he picked up that day was the initial Honda parts shipment after the owners of Continental Cars signed up to sell Hondas. There were no other Honda dealers in Texas at the time, so July 28, 1971, was the beginning of Honda in Texas. Jim, who keeps meticulous written records, still has his 1974 employee manual from Continental Cars, Inc. and remembers the exact day that the first Honda parts arrived at the dealership. The employee manual can be viewed on our corporate website: www.cagaustin.com.
Highland Toyota was initially a part of Continental Cars, but due to continuing increases in the sale and service of Toyota vehicles, it became necessary for Toyota to have its own physical plant complete with new car show room, parts, and service departments. In March of 1971, Highland Toyota became an operating subsidiary of Continental Cars and in 1972 a separate Texas Corporation. In 1973 Highland Toyota added B.M.W. and Jensen Healey automobiles to diversify its product line.
Continental Cars continues to prosper and grow into the late 1970s, when Bryan Hardeman graduated from the University of Texas with a degree in Business Administration. Although he had no experience or background in the automotive industry, he recalls hearing about selling cars from a roommate’s father who worked as a dealer. When Austin-based Continental Cars became available for purchase in 1978, Mr. Hardeman decided to leave his local commercial bank job and seize the opportunity to enter into the car business. With the purchase of Continental Cars, Mr. Hardeman acquired both Mercedes-Benz and Honda franchises, operated today as Mercedes Benz of Austin and First Texas Honda. At 29 years old, Mr. Hardeman became the youngest authorized Mercedes-Benz and Honda dealer in the country. In 1978, Continental Cars opened their own automotive collision repair facility - Continental Collision Center.
In those early days, Continental Cars housed all its different franchises in a single facility on Huntland Drive. Throughout the 1970s and into the 1980s, Mr. Hardeman experimented with different opportunities for the dealership through the purchase and sale of other automotive franchises, including both foreign and domestic brands. Current employees such as Brett Liming, Chris Hirsh, Buddy Howard, Bill Henline, and Kent Liming began all their careers at CAG during these years. For example, a 19-year-old Chris Hirsh, who is now Service Manager at Mercedes-Benz of Austin, began working as a technician at Continental Cars in 1973. When Kent Liming was hired in 1977, he had a two-year-old son named Garrett who would join the dealership 20 years later and rise to his current role as Service Director of First Texas Honda and Austin Subaru. Many of the employee traditions that continue today also began back in the 1980s, including the yearly bonuses for all employees and the annual presentation of Mr. Hardeman’s Christmas gift.
With the 1980s came Continental Cars three future owners, Will (7/18/1981) “Austin’s own Renaissance Man”, and the “Twin Towers” Genny and Joy Hardeman (2/17/1984). More information on Will, Genny and Joy can be found on the dealership website staff pages.
Just as the Hardeman family grew in size, it was soon apparent that the Continental Cars dealership would need to expand its facility as well. On March 3, 1986, Bryan Hardeman moved the Honda franchise out of the Huntland Drive building and into its current location on West Koenig Lane. The new dealership was named First Texas Honda, which, as the name suggests, can proudly call itself the first Honda dealership in Texas. At the time of its opening, the First Texas Honda facility was the largest Honda dealership in the world. We still have the framed letter in his office from Governor Mark White congratulating Mr. Hardeman on the dealership’s grand opening. Mr. Hardeman even had a black Labrador Retriever named Honda!
Soon after Honda’s move in 1986, Mr. Hardeman began looking for a larger building to house the rest of his business, which was renamed the Continental Imports. He found the old Fox Theatre 3 on Airport Boulevard, and, after a renovation and remodel of the facility was completed in 1987, Mercedes-Benz of Austin moved to its current location.
As fortunate as the early years of the Continental Automotive Group were, the company story is not one of unhindered prosperity. After the successful growth of Continental Cars in the early and mid-1980s, the dealership experienced an equally swift decline in business during the late 1980s before recovering again in 1991.
The 90s were years of tremendous growth for the Continental dealerships with annual sales doubling every five years. As the sales grew, so did the employment with the number of employees
Another milestone for the dealership group came in 1991, when Mr. Hardeman sought out and was awarded an Infiniti franchise, operated today as Austin Infiniti.
In 1996, representatives from Subaru of America traveled from Denver, only to arrive in Texas during an exceedingly rare Austin snowstorm. After learning about Subaru's 4-wheel drive agility and being able to maneuver safely in icy conditions, Mr. Hardeman felt like it would be a good addition to Continental Automotive Group. Even with half the dealership (and city) shut down, Mr. Hardeman was awarded the Subaru franchise and approved to open Austin Subaru.
Employees from the 1990s still working here today:
The most recent addition to the Continental Automotive group came in 2001, when Mr. Hardeman decided to take the wholesale parts businesses out of the dealerships and open Wholesale Parts Direct, a separate wholesale parts distribution center. David Hilfer managed the operation that saw the parts department grow from a division of Continental Imports to its reputable position in 2001, as the 3rd largest wholesaler of Mercedes-Benz parts and the 9th largest wholesaler of Honda parts. Wholesale Parts Direct now sells parts to independent automotive service businesses and also distributes for the same manufacturers that provide OEM parts direct to the car makers.
In addition to the four dealerships, the Continental Automotive Group also operates a full-service collision repair center. Continental Collision Center opened in 1978 and moved to its current location on North Lamar in May 2003. This I-Car gold certified body, paint, and repair shop has a 30,000 square foot state-of-the-art facility containing 4 heated down-draft, environmentally friendly, paint spray booths. Continental Collision repairs all makes and models and is a Mercedes-Benz, Honda, and Infiniti certified collision facility. "Not only are we an iCARD GOLD shop, all of our technicians are factory trained and have repeat courses every year," say General Manager Rick Robinson. "Even our paint techs are certified by the paint suppliers." As of spring 2011, our body shop proudly displays an energy efficient back-lite LED sign. This sign was the first official CAG sign made for any of our locations.
July 2007 the New Infiniti Dealership opened. There was a lot of anticipation, it was a project that was in the works for some time. When Austin Infiniti was built is was the largest exclusive Infiniti dealer in the country. "It took some getting use to going from a small dealership to a huge facility, some days we felt like we needed a golf cart just to get around." says General Manager Allen Clauss. "We had an incredible grand opening, it was a 3 night party that included a fashion show, a car give away, live music and ended with the American Heart Association Gala." That year the dealership won the Infiniti Award of Excellence, an honor presented by Infiniti to a select group of dealers who achieve the highest levels of customer satisfaction and sales results. In 2011 Austin Infiniti again won the Award of Excellence combined with the Circle of Excellence, one of only six dealers in the US to earn both awards.
In 2008, Austin Subaru moved into their new state of the art facility on Huntland Drive. This is the location that housed Austin Infiniti just a couple years prior and the same location that Honda and Mercedes-Benz dealerships were located when Mr. Hardeman purchased Continental Cars, Inc. in 1978.
In September 2012, First Texas Honda moved into there new home off Mopac at Steck Avenue and Shoal Creek Blvd. The past 25 years First Texas Honda has prospered as Austin’s only locally owned and operated Honda dealership and service center. At 120,000 square feet, the new facility is the largest Honda dealership in the United States and includes a showroom large enough to showcase 100 new and pre-owned Honda vehicles, in addition to the hundreds of cars that can be displayed on the inventory lots. The new facility also incorporates an environmentally-friendly addition, with a rain water collection cistern to store thousands of gallons of water and reduce unnecessary water consumption.
"Working for the CAG has been an amazing journey," says General Manager Jim Olmstead. "There are just too many changes to mention. Needless to say going from 1 Honda on a cramped showroom in 1971 to a 3 car showroom in 1986 to now a 100 car showroom with a Café, Kids Fun Zone, Indoor Delivery Areas, CAG Insurance office, Car Wash and Music Stage is a dream come true, not just for our employees but our customers as well. It has been an honor to have a career working for the Hardeman family who continues to improve the customer and employee experience by investing in bigger and better Sales & Servicing facilities."
Even through the challenges of experimenting with different car franchises and dealing with fluctuations in both the national and local economies, the dealerships have been very fortunate with their success and stability. This is attributed to the extent to which the Continental Automotive Group has maintained its focus on its original core business and operating goals.
Continental General Agency
First Texas Honda
Mercedes-Benz of Austin
Wholesale Parts Direct