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Steve Gates, of Toyota South in Richmond, among nominees for 2021 Time Dealer of the Year Award

Steve Gates, dealer principal at Toyota South in Richmond, has been nominated for the 2021 TIME Dealer of the Year award.  

Gates is one of a select group of 41 dealer nominees from across the country who will be honored at the 104th annual National Automobile Dealers Association (NADA) Show being held virtually February 9-11. The announcement of this year’s annual award was made by Viktoria Degtar, Global Chief Revenue Officer, TIME, and Doug Timmerman, president of Auto Finance for Ally Financial.

Steve Gates

The TIME Dealer of the Year award is one of the automobile industry’s most prestigious and highly coveted honors. Recipients are among the nation’s most successful auto dealers who also demonstrate a long-standing commitment to community service.

Gates, 69, was chosen to represent the Kentucky Automobile Dealers Association in the national competition – one of only 41 auto dealers nominated for the 52nd annual award from more than 16,000 nationwide.

“In reality, I believe that my auto career began at birth,” nominee Gates said. “My mother told me that I could name every car and model on the road by the time I was four years old. My first word, other than the essential monosyllabic one, was ‘Plymouth.’”

Gates’ first official job in the industry was as a lot attendant at his father’s dealership, Bud Gates Chevrolet, in Indianapolis, Indiana, when he was 14 years old. His grandfather had also been in the business, having launched a DeSoto store in 1915.

“I watched and listened to everything possible while at work,” Gates said. “I was able to roam the complex as cars were stored everywhere. I got to spend time with mechanics, body men, parts counter people and salespeople. I learned a lot – not always valuable – and was fascinated with everything they said. I wanted so badly to be working all day, every day with them but I was only in junior high school.”

After earning a B.A. from Indiana University in Bloomington in 1975, he continued to pursue his passion for the auto industry, despite his father dissolving the dealerships in 1974. He worked for a few auto services companies and a BMW store in Indianapolis before partnering with Bob McKamey in Toyota South in Richmond, which was struggling at the time.

Today, he has helped build the Gates Auto Family into a successful, multi-state operation, which includes 10 dealerships in Kentucky, Indiana and Tennessee, representing brands Audi, Ford, Honda, Kia, Hyundai, Lexus, Lincoln, Nissan and Toyota.

“Throughout my career, I have never forgotten my great fortune to be able to sell cars,” Gates said. “I have so much more to accomplish and I love the work.”

His commitment to the industry extends far beyond his dealership showrooms. Gates currently serves on the Toyota National Dealer Council, the Toyota National Product Advisory Council and on the board of the Americans for Free International Trade PAC (AFIT). He is also a board member and incoming chair for the American International Automobile Dealer Association.

In the area of community service, his primary focus is improving the lives of children who live in central Kentucky. To that end, he supports the Secret Families Christmas Charities, which helps those in need celebrate the holiday by providing a Christmas tree, presents and dinner. Employees of Toyota South, as well as other members of the community, volunteer their time or donate funds to sponsor a family.

He also supports the Lexington Dream Factory, which grants dreams to children with critical and severe chronic illnesses; God’s Outreach (Madison County Food Bank); Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Bluegrass; and Lexington Humane Society, to name a few.

Gates was nominated for the TIME Dealer of the Year award by Gay Williams, president of the Kentucky Automobile Dealers Association. He and his wife, Kathy, have three children.

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