Stars and Cars Sleek and Sexy at 2014 Urban Wheel Awards


Sonya Grant White and Donovan Sowell show off the 2014 Chevy Impala at the 18th Annual Urban Wheel Awards in Detroit. Photo by Rick Blanchard

Differences make us better.

While it’s a recurring theme and one that automakers and suppliers to the industry have thoroughly embraced over the years, it’s one that has never been more clearly demonstrated than at the 18th annual version of the Urban Wheel Awards, held on the eve of the Press Days for Detroit’s 2014 North American International Auto Show.

Held this year Jan. 12 at the Detroit Marriott at the Renaissance Hotel, the event (organized by Decisive Media) showcased some of the most worthy examples of diversity in action throughout the auto industry as well as several key products.

Notable individuals and their awards included:

2014 Pioneer of the Year Award:
Leon Richardson

Born in Hamtramck, Mich., and raised in West Haven, Conn., Richardson served as a U.S. Marine before earning a business management degree at the Detroit College of Business.

Currently serving as chairman of the National Association of Black Suppliers, Richardson is a board member of both the Michigan Minority Supplier Development Council, and co-chairs the General Motors Corp. Supplier Diversity Council. He is also a former executive board member of Suppliers for the Environment and the Chemical Management Suppliers forum.


Dorian Boyland accepts the African American Dealer of the Year Award from Damon Lester, president of the National Association of Minority Auto Deaders. Photo by Wayne Norman

African-American Dealer of the Year:
Dorian Boyland
CEO, Boyland Automotive Group
A graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh (business and accounting) and a former pro baseball player (he was a member of the 1979 World Series winning Pittsburgh Pirates), Boyland has spent the past 30 years in the automobile business, owning and/or operating some 21 dealerships in seven states.

With revenue of more than $5 billion, the Boyland Group holds a litany of sales awards, but none of them greater than the individual persona of its CEO.

My mother gave me great advice: stay out of trouble, get good grades and act like I am 100 percent of the time looking over your shoulder,’ Boyland told the audience. Mom, I hope you are proud to see what I have done.


Armando Ojeda, president and CEO at Hispanic Automobile Supplier Alliance, from left, Rahim Hassanally, president of Momentum Auto Group and 2014 Asian Dealer of the Year Award recipient, David Wescott, chairman of the National Association of Automobile Dealers, and Damon Lester, NAMAD president. Photo by Wayne Norman

Asian Dealer of the Year:
Rahim Hassanally
President, Momentum Auto Group
A first-time car dealer at the ripe age of 26, Hassanally now operates a business that includes some 16 franchises and employs more than 250 people, generating $300 million in revenue from a base in Fairfield, Calif.

“I saved my money, looked at a lot of different stores and found this store within my budget,” says Hassanally, now 34. “I’m a very driven person. I have goals. I set my mind to them and don’t let up.”

Hispanic Dealer of the Year:
Manuel Gonzalez – Sterling Auto Group

A native of Cuba, Gonzalez immigrated to the United States in the 1970s with the hope of owning his own business.

Earning both undergraduate and graduate degrees in chemical engineering, the entrepreneur worked in multiple industry capacities prior to opening his first independent dealership in 1992.

For the last 25 years he has been passionate about the automotive industry, currently serving as president of Sterling Auto Group in Bryan/College Station, Texas.

Gonzalez, a former co-chair of General Motors’ Minority Dealer Advisory Council, has earned several prestigious awards recognizing a commitment to customers and community alike.


Urban Wheel Awards Founder Randi Payton, from left, Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan, and John Carlos, executive director of, join the lineup.Photo by Rick Blanchard

2014 Suppliers of the Year:

African American Supplier of the Year:
Sarah Bates – Chairman & CEO Nu Tek Steel
Sarah J. Bates began her career in the steel business more than two decades ago but purchased the assets of a distressed company in 2000.

With that move, she was on her way to becoming the owner of a successful steel service center in her own right. Subsequently she acquired a second and third facility in Erie, Mich., and Toledo, Ohio, and today serves clients throughout the world.

Asian Supplier of the Year:
Chain Sandhu CEO of NYX Inc.

Chain Sandhu acquired NYX in 1989 and has since taken a $2 million business to a $250 million enterprise (2003).

With people, technology and quality as the cornerstones of an “invest and grow” strategy for NYX, Sandhu has put his expertise acquired through a masters degree in manufacturing engineering to work in improving efficiency and quality at NYX.

Sandhu worked for nearly 20 years at GM before acquiring NYX. Since then he has been honored with several awards, among them the Ernst & Young “Entrepreneur of the Year” award (2000), the Hank Aguirre “Humanitarian award” from the Michigan Minority Business Development Council (1999) and the “Entrepreneur Achievement Award” from TIE. Sandhu is a charter member of TIE and chairman of the Sikh foundation.


Frank Venegas, chairman and CEO of Ideal Group Inc. and Hispanic Supplier of the Year Award winner, recounts how he got started. Photo by Wayne Norman

Hispanic Supplier of the Year:
Frank Venegas – Chairman & CEO The Ideal Group Inc.
Frank Venegas Jr., an entrepreneur and grandson of Mexican immigrants, began his first company with a little bit of luck.

Having won a Cadillac in a Home Builders’ Association raffle in 1979, he sold the car for $12,000 and used the proceeds as the initial capital investment to start his first company.

By 2000, Venegas opened the new Ideal Group headquarters on the same land in Southwest Detroit where General Motors manufactured that lucky 1979 Cadillac.

A past co-chair of the General Motors Supplier Diversity Council and a current member of the General Motors Global Supplier Council, Venegas credits much of his business growth to the GM Mentored Supplier Program and the buyers that operated as true mentors over the years.

Vehicles Honored
In addition to individual honors, the Urban Wheel Awards named three vehicles as part of the program:

Urban Car of the Year: Mercedes-Benz CLA
2014 Urban Truck of the Year: Chevrolet Silverado
2014 Green Vehicle of the Year: BMW i3

The multicultural/multi-gender Urban Vehicles of the Year judging panel included some of the most notable and respected automotive reviewers in the country, among them Motorweek’s Yolanda Vazquez, Frank Washington of, Camilo Alfaro of Autoproyecto, and Ken Panton of eCityofStyle.