Priority Toyota Chesapeake Earns Top Toyota Honor

Priority Toyota Chesapeake was named Toyota Motor Corp.’s prestigious “Best in Town” award winner for 2019. The award recognizes the dealership’s groundbreaking program that trains non-violent Norfolk City Jail inmates as automotive technicians.

Established in 2014, the award is presented by Toyota President Akio Toyoda to one U.S. dealership each year. Priority Toyota Chesapeake received the honor during Toyota’s recent national dealer meeting.

“To be the only Toyota dealership in the nation selected to receive this award is truly a great honor,” Priority Automotive Owner and President Dennis Ellmer said in a news release. “Our company is proud of these men and proud of this program’s ability to help them make a difference in their lives. This award is a win for them too, along with our entire community.”

Program developed with community support

Launched in 2018 in partnership with the Norfolk Sheriff’s Department and Tidewater Community College, the Priority Inmate Technician Training Program trains non-violent Norfolk City Jail inmates as auto technicians while they are still incarcerated. After completing the rigorous two-year program, the trainees are hired as full-time Priority technicians with full benefits. Officials believe that by helping the inmates re-enter society with tangible trade skills, they can help reduce chronic jail recidivism while helping Priority meet a critical need for highly trained automotive technicians.

“I want to emphasize that this was a total team effort by many people, including Governor Ralph Northam, Norfolk Mayor Kenny Alexander, Sheriff Joe Baron and the incredible staff at Tidewater Community College,” Ellmer said. “This was not just a Priority Toyota program but a community wide effort.”

Of the program’s initial 15 trainees, 14 completed the program and graduated from Tidewater Community College in May. They are now all working as full-time Priority employees, while a new class of inmates begins the program.

Although Company President Toyoda created the Best in Town award, he insists on leaving it up to local dealerships – people who work with local customers every day – to decide the award’s annual recipient.

“Everyone says Toyota is the best company in the world,” Toyoda has said, “but the customer doesn’t care about the world. They care if we are the best in town or not. That’s what I want to be.”

About Priority Automotive
Priority Automotive was founded in 1999 by Dennis Ellmer with the acquisition of Chevrolet and Toyota dealerships in Chesapeake, Va. Today, Priority owns and operates 21 dealerships and five collision repair centers throughout Hampton Roads, Northern Virginia, Roanoke and North Carolina representing 10 brands – Acura, BraunAbility, Chevrolet, Ford, Honda, Hyundai, Infiniti, Mazda, Nissan and Toyota. Priority has more than 200,000 Priorities for Life customers throughout Virginia and North Carolina and employs more than 1,500 people. For more information, visit