Retail | Wholesale | Food | Beverage 2023: DENNIS ELLMER
CEO, PRIORITY AUTO GROUP, CHESAPEAKE
Ellmer launched Priority Auto in 1999 with the acquisition of two dealerships in Chesapeake. By 2023. he grew the business to No. 55 on Automotive News’ list of the top 150 dealer groups in the U.S., based on the 14,447 new vehicles the dealership sold in 2022.
In June, auto retail giant Lithia Motors announced it had purchased 13 of Priority’s dealerships, leaving only its two Lexus stores in Newport News and Virginia Beach in Ellmer’s hands, although Ellmer remains Priority’s CEO. Lithia expected the acquisition to add $1.2 billion in annual revenue.
A Norfolk native, Ellmer started selling motorcycles at Cycle World in Virginia Beach and moved on to car sales at Kline Chevrolet, ultimately becoming Kline’s president before acquiring its Chevrolet and Toyota dealerships in Chesapeake, which he renamed Priority.
In 2022, Ellmer was appointed to Old Dominion University’s board of visitors, and Ellmer and his wife, Jan, made a $2.5 million donation to renovate ODU’s baseball stadium. He was a student at the university briefly before leaving to start his career in vehicle sales.