AutoNation praises One Price strategy for improved Q3 used sales

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. - 

AutoNation chairman, chief executive officer and president Mike Jackson didn’t hesitate to point out the reason why the dealer group’s used-vehicle sales during the third quarter jumped 6.4 percent year-over-year.

AutoNation stores retailed 59,330 used vehicles during Q3, up from 55,760 units a year earlier. Jackson told investment analysts why stores moved more used metal when the company hosted its quarterly conference call on Thursday.

“I would say the AutoNation branded One Price experience for pre-owned drives tremendous traffic and interest through our website and through our stores,” Jackson said. “So the One Price sale has to be competitive in the marketplace.”

Announced last October, AutoNation explained One Price allows the company to leverage centralized capabilities, such as centralized pricing and appraisals, and offers consumers a “transparent and stress-free buying experience.”

AutoNation was to fully implement One Price in all existing locations by the end of the second quarter of this year.

While AutoNation turned more used vehicles year-over-year, the company’s gross profit per unit on those vehicles softened by $105 to settle at $1,414. Jackson addressed that metric, too.

“On the margin side, we have to have really strong operational execution. That was not there in the second quarter. We had some issues. I was very forthright about that. We've comprehensively addressed them, and yes, I see more stability in that going forward,” Jackson said.

“So that’s how I see it,” he continued. “The One Price is an experience and a brand attribute that customers like and draws us a lot of business. Sales associates are very enthusiastic about it, particularly millennials that we're now able to attract to work for us, so they don't have to negotiate.

“And then, we on the operating side have to bring in the gross margins. That’s the formula,” Jackson went on to say.

Also in connection with its retail performance, AutoNation watched its new-model sales figure dip 2.4 percent year-over-year in Q3, coming in at 86,192 units after it had been 88,322 units a year ago.

In the F&I office, AutoNation generated an extra $66 per unit in gross profit in that department as the metric rose to $1,660.

All told, AutoNation reported its Q3 net income from continuing operations came in at $98 million, or $1.00 per share. The company estimated that Hurricane Irma negatively impacted Q3 net income by approximately $8 million after taxes, or $0.08 per share.

Also during the third quarter, AutoNation repurchased 9.2 million shares of common stock for an aggregate purchase price of $400 million. As of Oct. 31, AutoNation has approximately $114 million remaining board authorization for share repurchase and 91 million shares outstanding.

Update on parts initiative

Also announced last year, the company offers AutoNation branded parts and accessories at AutoNation USA — standalone pre-owned vehicle sales and service centers.

A year ago when explaining the concept, the company emphasized AutoNation Precision Parts is a high quality, competitively priced line of maintenance and repair parts.

The new product line has been integrated into the company's reconditioning operations, and now enable improved customer retention for retail service, wholesale parts and collision repair business units, including AutoNation USA.

AutoNation Precision Parts was launched in the third quarter of last year in the company's existing stores, with the introduction of AutoNation-branded batteries that feature an industry-leading free lifetime replacement guarantee.

AutoNation Auto Gear, the company’s branded automotive accessory line, offers auto accessories for lifestyle, appearance, protection and vehicle security. AutoNation Auto Gear was also launched in the third quarter in the company's existing stores and is available at each AutoNation USA store.

The company plans to expand both AutoNation Precision Parts and AutoNation Auto Gear product lines in phases as their product portfolios are developed.

With all of those developments in motion, Jackson responded to an inquiry about how much pushback AutoNation has received from automakers.

“Yes, there’s been a discussion of course, and I say to them, ‘Look, if I go back 10 years ago, we had front-end gross on new vehicle sales of 8 percent, 9 percent, cost of 4 percent or 5 percent And today, we have front-end gross of 5 percent and new-vehicle sales is almost a commodity pass-through business and that we have to make all our profits somewhere other than selling the new car.’ Now, I have a franchise, so I've agreed that we will do tremendous volume on new vehicles.

“I understand that. That’s my responsibility,” he continued. “But then I say to the manufacturer, ‘By the way, it’s your stair steps and your margin programs that have brought us to this state, and you’re quite delighted with the fact that front-end gross margins are down to 5 percent. So you have to understand I’ve made this investment in this facility, and I need a way to grow and to do that profitably. And a lot of business that I gave you in the past for relationship reasons, just only for relationship reasons, and partnership reasons, no longer make sense with a front-end gross of 5 percent.’”

So is there a bitter divide between OEMs and AutoNation? Perhaps not.

“And the end of the conversation, I would say is I have earned their respect,” Jackson said. “And they said, ‘If I was in your shoes, I'd be doing the exact same thing and I guess. We don't have to worry about it too much, because who else can do it other than AutoNation?’

“So OK, and I'll take it. That’s fine with me,” he added.

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