Urban Wheel Awards celebrate diversity

Melody Baetens
The Detroit News

The 19th annual Urban Wheel Awards celebrated diversity in the auto industry Sunday evening at Midtown's Garden Theater.

Helmed by Decisive Magazine, the event is promoted as the official multicultural event of the North American International Auto Show. Judge Mablean Ephriam, former star of "Divorce Court" hosted the event, which was noticeably scaled down from last year's event at the Renaissance Center.

"I always feel good when I'm at award shows; I'm excited," said a smiling Judge Craig Strong, who co-hosted the Urban Wheel Awards. He said events like this are important because they highlight minorities in the auto industry.

Before Judge Strong introduced Ephriam, Mayor Mike Duggan kicked off the event by briefly addressing the crowd, which included people from all over the country, including Chicago and Texas.

"This is a great time to be in the city," he said. "There are more opportunities here than there has been in decades."

After an introduction from Ephriam that stressed the importance of greener vehicles, awards for Dealer of the Year were distributed.

Greg Jackson, CEO of Prestige Automotive Group in St. Clair Shores, was named African American Dealer of the Year. The Hispanic Dealer of the Year award went to Bernie Moreno of Collection Automotive Group based in North Olmstead, Ohio, and Jay Park of Crestmont Cadillac and Crestmont Hyundai in Crestmont, Ohio, received the Asian Dealer of the Year trophy.

The Supplier of the Year award went to John James of James Group International, and the Emerging Executive of the Year award went to Randy Parker, vice president of Nissan West Region, Nissan North America.

One of the highlights of the evening was the announcement of Executive of the Year award, given to Janet Marzett of Mercedes-Benz. The Texan said she's been with the car company for 35 years, working her way up to vice president of operations. In accepting her award, she said her success was due to the support of her mother, two sisters and her husband.

During the pre-awards reception, Marzett said she was grateful to those in the automotive field who helped her succeed.

"If you limit your mentors to only people who look like you, you're missing out," she said.

This year's vehicle winners were the Kia K900 for Urban Car of the Year, Ford F150 for Urban Truck of the Year and BMW i8 for Urban Green Vehicle of the Year.