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Darcars' Darvish an Ardent Advocate for Embattled Auto Dealers

By Thomas Heath
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, July 13, 2009

Tammy Darvish is winging up Interstate 95 toward Baltimore in her Lexus sport-utility vehicle, where the front seat doubles as command center in her war against the Obama administration and the "new" General Motors and Chrysler.

The vice president of Silver Spring-based Darcars Automotive Group is in full multitasking mode. Her dash is checkered with Post-it notes to herself. She munches on turkey bacon and swigs Diet Dr Pepper as she puts out and receives a stream of telephone calls.

"Howarya," she answers into the speakerphone. An aide to Sen. Richard C. Shelby (R-Ala.) is happy to meet with her to discuss a bill to save GM and Chrysler dealerships. She drives with her forearms as she jots the date on a Post-it.

Tamara Darvish, 45, heiress to one of the biggest groups of automotive dealers in the United States, used to occupy herself with courting customers and closing deals. After all, she's long been the public face of Darcars, appearing in television commercials asking, "Looking for a new car?"

But the recession has forced many businesses, including her own, to deal with new challenges. The federal government's takeover of Chrysler and GM has turned the industry upside down, forcing Darvish and others to troll the halls on Capitol Hill for help in stopping the American automakers from cutting ties with their dealerships.

The fight has raised her profile in the Washington business community. She has done dozens of interviews with television outlets such as CNBC and Fox News and with newspaper editorial boards.

Darvish spent weeks in a federal courthouse in New York City, standing outside at 5:30 a.m. to get a front-row seat to the Chrysler bankruptcy hearings. She eventually was appointed to the creditors' committee. She is helping organize a meeting of dealers tomorrow in which the business owners plan to fan out across Capitol Hill to lobby for legislation that would negate the dealership closures that are part of the reorganizations of Chrysler and GM.

Darcars is better off than many, cushioned by a sprawling collision, parts and repair business that insulates it somewhat from the sharp drop in auto sales. But Darvish sees the fight in terms of self-preservation for her niche of the automotive industry.

"If I don't do this, the next generation in this business will not be protected," she said. "We cannot allow this precedent."

Her new role is not an entirely unfamiliar one. Locally, Darvish is known as a not-so-subtle force among dealers, whether it be pushing for a higher profile for the annual auto show or squeezing fellow dealers to write a check for her favorite charity, the National Capital Area chapter of the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.

"She is tenacious. The word 'no' is not accepted. She is not some rich guy's daughter who doesn't know what she's doing," said George Brenner, assistant general manager of Central Atlantic Toyota, which has been doing business with the Darvish family for 23 years.

Adds Vince Sheehy, another local automobile dealer: "She is not going to let anybody get in the way of accomplishing what she thinks ought to be accomplished."

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