Dealer Groups

Group 1 opens 13th Audi store


Group 1 Automotive announced Tuesday that the company has acquired a new Audi dealership in Fort Worth, Texas.

The addition of the new Texas dealership brings Group 1‘s portfolio of Audi dealerships to 13.

Group 1 currently owns Audi dealerships in Florida, Massachusetts, South Carolina, Texas and the United Kingdom.

"We are delighted to expand our relationship with Audi in the United States and strengthen our luxury brand representation and overall retail portfolio in the greater Dallas-Fort Worth metropolitan area," Group 1 president and chief executive officer Earl Hesterberg said in a news release.

The company estimates that the new Audi store will generate $55 million in annual revenues.

Role of auctions in Penske’s standalone store strategy


The method Penske Automotive Group plans to continue using to fill inventories at CarSense — its standalone used-vehicle retail locations primarily in the Northeast with intensions on expanding — should delight auction general managers who see buyers for this dealer group mingle in their lanes.

Chairman Roger Penske said during the company’s latest conference call that about 80 percent of the vehicles CarSense stocks comes from auctions.

Penske also pointed to expected lifts in off-lease volume coming in 2018, 2019 and 2020 to help these CarSense locations that depend on Penske buyers with specific instructions on how to procure inventory, which currently sits at about 45 days’ supply.

“Well, I think we have to say that auction prices on a daily basis demonstrate the real value of the vehicles,” Penske told conference call participants. “So, we have a number of buyers and they’re out there looking at the marketplace.

“They have metrics that they’re looking at certain models, certain colors and markets that have been selling. So they have a past history. So they’re prepared to pay a particular price for these vehicles, and I think that we only buy the car if we want to fill in certain types of cars,” he said.

“In fact, I looked at some metrics during the week and it showed certain models that they were long on and certain models they were short,” Penske continued.

“So, they actually just don’t buy just cars. They buy specific models, and obviously we have a mix of SUVs and trucks along with cars,” he said. “Our customer is looking for a vehicle that’s probably 1 to 4 years old. The average selling price in the U.S. is $20,000. So we have a pretty good mix of vehicles. To me, we’re in a position to purchase many of these off-lease vehicles that come in, and the auctions today are ones that they offer this opportunity.

“There are some closed auctions for dealerships, and then obviously after that, we have the open auction opportunity to buy those vehicles, and then this helps us as we go forward. We manage our variable costs associated with these purchases,” he added.

The company reported that CarSense locations and CarShop operations — a similar standalone concept in the United Kingdom — retailed 11,125 vehicles during the second quarter, generating $193 million in revenue and $33 million in gross profit for Penske.

“We believe these used-vehicle supercenters further diversify Penske Automotive Group’s business and provide an opportunity to capitalize on the highly fragmented used-vehicle market,” the chairman said.

“We also believe these businesses provide an unlimited white space for scalable expansion. We have plans to expand into several new markets and continue to expect to double the number of locations within 24 months,” Penske added.

Penske also addressed a question about whether the company would establish its own finance company to serve as a captive-like provider for CarSense and CarShop locations; similar to what CarMax has in place.

“Well, I think if you look at CarMax, bottom line, they have a big impact with their financing,” Penske said. “They’ve done a terrific job. Right now, we’re using third-party financing and third party for the products that we sell.

“I don't know that at the moment that we have the capital available to start a finance company,” he continued. “It’s something we can look at once we have a history and maybe we get a partner to do something like that. But the good news is it’s an opportunity because we’ve seen the success that CarMax has.

“We just have to assess the risk on that if we go into that area, but I wouldn’t say that’s top of the list right now,” Penske added.

Online sales activities

With consumer trends pointing to more potential buyers wanting to complete deliveries mostly or even completely online, Penske shared an update about the company’s platform designed to do that. For the past 12 months, Penske has developed what it has been dubbed Preferred Purchase.  

Penske highlighted Preferred Purchase is now available at all of the dealer group’s stores.

“We think that this is an opportunity to reduce the cycle time for customers to buy a vehicle,” he told conference call participants. “I think that the closing rate as we look at this probably is three times higher than a normal purchase.

“And you, as a customer, can pick the vehicle, you can also supply your trade information, we'll give you a purchase price on your trade, you can look at a lease, you can look at a finance transaction and then you can call us obviously to complete it,” Penske continued.

Penske also highlighted that the closing rate for group customers using Preferred Purchase hit 24 percent in June. The chairman assured investors that Preferred Purchase can give the company the tool to compete with new industry participants such as Carvana and Shift.

“So when we look at it overall, this is the same thing that people are talking about, and we have it in place for every one of our dealerships,” Penske said. “I think that this will give us the ability to do this across all of our businesses and there’s no question that we continue to enhance this to make it quicker and more transparent to the customer.”

Lithia purchases LA auto group

MEDFORD, Ore.  - 

After buying a Pittsburgh dealer group this spring, Lithia Motors turned its attention to the West Coast with its latest acquisition.

The retailer announced Tuesday it has purchased Downtown Los Angeles Auto Group.

The California group, also known as DTLA, includes Audi, Mercedes-Benz, Nissan, Porsche, Toyota and Volkswagen dealerships located in downtown Los Angeles plus a Nissan dealership in Carson, Calif.

Lithia projects DTLA can bring in $1 billion in revenue annually along with $0.55 per share in earnings. With the acquisition, Lithia has upped its earnings guidance for 2017 to $8.55 to $8.70 per share.

“We are pleased to continue our robust acquisition cadence of purchasing strong assets with considerable upside,” Lithia president and chief executive officer Bryan DeBoer said in a news release.

“These stores are located in the fast-growing downtown area, within close proximity to the Staples Center and L.A. Live, and are among the largest volume stores of their brands in the nation,” DeBoer said. “We are excited to partner with Elay Sung and the entire Downtown LA team to accelerate their growth.”

Lithia expanded its operations to Pennsylvania with the purchase of Baierl Auto Group in a deal announced in May.

Lithia bought DCH Auto Group in the summer of 2014 and then the Carbone Auto Group last September.

The company said in its news release that the addition of these groups helps to “further diversify Lithia and grow through sharing best practices, high-performing people and innovative technology.”

The retailer is aiming to boost its “omnichannel retail strategy focused on expanding its customer base from coast to coast,” it said.

 “This opportunity deploys approximately half of the $300 million raised in our recent senior notes offering,” said DeBoer. “The remaining funds from the notes offering, our free cash flow and a recently increased syndicated credit facility support our continued growth cadence. Improving performance to realize the full potential of our acquisitions achieves greenfield rates of return.”


How softening trade volume impacted Group 1 in Q2


Group 1 Automotive leadership offered a bit more explanation as to why used-vehicle retail revenue and gross profit softened during the second quarter with part of the reason why the company saying it had to tap inventory availability at auctions to fulfill its needs.

Officials recapped that Q2 retail used-vehicle revenues decreased 4.2 percent on a 2.9-percent decrease in unit sales.

And Group 1 reported that retail used-vehicle gross profit decreased 6.9 percent during the second quarter to $44.9 million reflecting the impact of lower margins, down $62 per unit, in combination with the volume decline.

“This per-unit decline is primarily explained by overall weakness in used sedan industry pricing as well as lower trade-in volumes,” Group 1 president and chief executive officer Earl Hesterberg said during a conference call with the investment community.

“Trade-in units generate our highest used-vehicle retail margins,” continued Hesterberg, who mentioned Group 1 had 12,600 units in its U.S. used-vehicle inventory, which translated into a 32 days’ supply and “is consistent with our historical levels.”

Group 1 emphasized that the economic softening in Texas and Oklahoma stemming dipping energy prices is exacerbated because of the dealer group’s store footprint in those locations. A total of 43.1 percent of the new-vehicle retail sales Group 1 recorded in the second quarter — perhaps triggering a trade, as well — originated from those two states.

“As Earl previously mentioned, our used-vehicle business in the U.S. oil markets was negatively impacted by both demand softness and a lack of trade-in supply which forced our dealerships to purchase more expensive inventory at auction, negatively impacting our retail used vehicle gross profit and margin,” Group 1 senior vice president and chief financial officer John Rickel said during the call.

And there’s one more element impacting the used-vehicle performance at Group 1; a factor referenced by Daryl Kenningham, the company’s president of U.S. operations.

“Negative equity is getting to be a larger challenge,” Kenningham said.

Oil patch rebound

Call participants asked Hesterberg what needs to happen for Group 1’s prospects to improve since so much of its business is connected to economic activity in Texas and Oklahoma.

“I think for us, the key is when the energy companies start to hire people again. Actually, markets like Houston have replaced most of the lost jobs. That really is not a net job loss, but the new jobs tend to be in the restaurant, hotel and hospitality industry. The jobs we lost are energy and construction jobs, high paying jobs,” Hesterberg said.

“So not only are there fewer customers buying a car, there is a probably a mix issue there too,” he continued. “The new jobs are probably supporting lower mix and more used cars or low-end volume-brand cars and have probably been hit disproportionately in the midline imports and luxury brands. But I think it's just a function of hiring again in the energy industry.”

And with 63 of its 159 dealerships located within Texas or Oklahoma, Group 1 appears to be leaning toward diversification as evident by its latest acquisition — Jaguar Land Rover Albuquerque and Land Rover Santa Fe, are the only Jaguar and Land Rover dealerships in the state of New Mexico.

“I think most of our desires in terms of expansion would be outside the oil patch footprint. As you can tell, we have a heavy enough concentration there right now. I wouldn't say we would turn down a good business in Texas or Oklahoma, but our long-term performance will benefit from more geographic diversification in the U.S.,” Hesterberg said.

“I do think that there is some adjustment in the acquisition market. It's become clear I would say, for the best part of the year that both near-term sales and profit levels just are not going to be the same as they were from 2014 to 2016. And to make any kind of deal, things have to adjust. So I don't know that the multiples to adjust, but clearly, the price levels can’t be the same,” he continued.

Standalone used store reaction

While Asbury Automotive Group is eliminating its standalone used-car stores, Sonic Automotive is intensifying its plans to roll out for locations. As a result, investors wanted to know what Group 1 might do in light of those dealer groups’ actions as well as the ongoing success enjoyed by CarMax.

“So we’ve looked at it many times over the years and our impression has always been that the critical factors to success is to be the bank also,” Rickel said. “I think that's the important component in CarMax's success as being the retailer and the lender. And we haven't been interested in becoming a bank yet.

“There are lots of other ventures into the dedicated used-car retail business that we'll watch closely and if somebody else can crack that nut, then maybe we'll take a go at it as well,” Rickel continued. “But right now, those things we just discussed in terms of expansion opportunities within our current business model seem to make a lot more sense for us.”

Changing need for physical assets

With more evidence showing that shoppers are spending more time online and visiting fewer dealerships before making a purchase, Wall Street watchers also wondered if Group 1 might be overleveraged with the amount of brick-and-mortar resources it has to turn used and new vehicles.

“Well, you’re preaching to the choir on that one,” Rickel said in response to the question. “No, it doesn’t require much of the brick-and-mortar we have today. We actually had one of the top OEM executives with us last Saturday who toured all of our different brand dealerships in Houston and we made the point to him that the two most important things to us today, and I think OEM dealers, are a service bay and a parking space.

“Everything else is interesting, but we always need more parking spaces, which are very costly when you're in metro areas where the land is expensive,” Rickel continued. “And a service bay is valuable and generates gross profit. And showroom size and offices and all those things are interesting, but we can sort those out on our own. So we hope we’ll enter an era soon of more realism in that area, but I can’t say we’re there yet.”

Lithia extends record performance streak to 27 straight quarters

MEDFORD, Ore. - 

Fueled in part by its used-vehicle performance, Lithia Motors posted its 27th consecutive quarter of record results, including the highest second quarter revenue and earnings per share in company history.

Helping Lithia to those achievements were used-vehicle retail same-store sales increasing by 4 percent. All told, the dealer group retailed a total of 32,171 used vehicles, up from 27,716 units in Q2 of last year.

While Lithia moved much more used metal, its average gross profit per unit on those used-vehicle deliveries softened by $109 year-over-year as the Q2 figure settled at $2,316.

Also providing support to Lithia’s overall performance was how the dealer group’s F&I gross profit per unit nearly reached $1,300. A $27 lift from last year’s second quarter left the metric at $1,298.

The company’s Q2 net income per diluted share increased 5 percent to $2.12 from $2.01 in the year-ago span. Adjusted net income per diluted share increased 16 percent to $2.28 from $1.96 for the same period in 2016.

Second quarter net income increased 3 percent year-over-year to $53.2 million from $51.4 million. Adjusted net income rose 14 percent to $57.2 million, up from $50.2 million.

Lithia pointed out that the Q2 adjusted results exclude $0.16 per share in non-core charges related to acquisition expenses and a hail storm insurance reserve. The 2016 Q2 non-core adjustments exclude a $0.05 benefit associated with an equity investment.

The dealer group added that Q2 revenue increased 16 percent to $2.5 billion from $2.1 billion.

At the halfway point of the year, Lithia highlighted its revenues have increased 14 percent to $4.7 billion. Net income for the first six months of the year came in at $4.13 per diluted share, compared to $3.56 per diluted share for the similar period in 2016.

“We continue to execute our strategy of acquiring strong franchises that underperform their potential and improving earnings as they season,” Lithia president and chief executive officer Bryan DeBoer said when the company released its results on Friday. “We increased quarterly revenues 16 percent and adjusted earnings 14 percent over last year, driven by our significant acquisition cadence.

“On a same-store basis, we grew new-vehicle sales slightly, increased used-vehicle sales over 4 percent, and grew service and parts over 7 percent,” DeBoer continued. “We recently raised $300 million in senior notes and anticipate deploying the capital for acquisition growth in the future.

“As we integrate acquisitions and seek to improve their earnings, we increase future cash flow and produce greenfield-like returns,” he went on to say.

Looking ahead, Lithia is projecting full-year earnings of $8.35 to $8.50 per diluted share. This projection is based on the following annual assumptions:

—Total revenue of $9.6 billion to $9.9 billion

—New-vehicle same store sales increasing 1.0 percent

—New-vehicle gross margin of 5.6 percent to 5.8 percent

—Used-vehicle same store sales increasing 5.0 percent

—Used vehicle gross margin of 11.5 percent to 11.7 percent

—Service body and parts same store sales increasing 7.0 percent

—Service body and parts gross margin of 48.5 percent to 49.0 percent

—Finance and insurance same store gross profit of $1,325 to $1,350 per unit

—Tax rate of 39.5 percent

—Average diluted shares outstanding of 25.1 million

Sonic sets used retail record, turning nearly 31K units


As Asbury Automotive Group chose to leave its standalone used-car store business, Sonic Automotive’s dedicated used-vehicle rooftops are adding so much to its performance that the company is expanding the segment.

Sonic highlighted on Friday that it retailed a record number of used vehicles during the second quarter, turning 30,536 units that contributed $40.0 million in gross profit.

Of that Q2 figure, Sonic’s standalone used stores — EchoPark — retailed 2,049 units, up 80.4 percent over the prior year quarter. As a result, Sonic announced that it is accelerating an expansion of an additional 15 EchoPark stores by the end of 2018.

“Given our performance at EchoPark, we are accelerating our expansion into the Carolinas, Florida, Georgia and Texas markets. Our Colorado stores were cash flow positive in the quarter. Currently, we have more than 15 locations in the aforementioned markets that will break ground in 2017 and 2018,” Sonic executive vice president of operations Jeff Dyke said in a news release.

Sonic shared plenty of other noteworthy accomplishments, including:

—All-time record quarterly fixed operations gross profit of $173.1 million, up 2.9 percent over the prior year quarter

—Record Q2 F&I gross profit and gross profit per retail unit of $86.9 million and $1,379, respectively

—Record Q2 total gross profit of $360.6 million, up 2.1 percent over the prior year quarter

On the new-car side, Sonic retailed 32,466 units during the second quarter, down from 33,229 units a year earlier.

“The new-vehicle retail sales environment continues to be challenging in Houston and across certain brands,” Dyke said. “Our exposure to BMW, coupled with economic conditions in Houston's energy corridor, pressured sales and profitability in the second quarter. 

“On a same-store basis, our new vehicle unit sales declined 3.0 percent compared to the prior year quarter,” he continued. “This decline was slightly higher than the overall SAAR decline of 2.9 percent.”

Dyke then turned back to where Sonic thrived during the second quarter.

“Other parts of the business, however, continue to experience growth. We were able to grow used vehicle, fixed operations and F&I (finance and insurance) gross profit during the quarter, which is a testament to the dealer operating model,” Dyke said. 

“In addition, our operations and financial management teams have been busy during the quarter adjusting our cost structure in various areas to compensate for increased competition that has pressured margins,” he went on to say. “We expect this highly competitive retail landscape to continue and possibly intensify over the next several quarters as dealers balance volume and gross per unit expectations.”

Sonic also reported that net income from continuing operations for the second quarter came in at $12.3 million, or $0.27 per diluted share. These results include charges related to fixed asset impairments, weather-related physical damage costs, legal matters, and charges associated with closing and relocating stores. 

“Our activities in the quarter continue to support our long-term growth strategies,” Sonic chief executive officer Scott Smith said. “During the second quarter, we opened our new open point Audi store in Pensacola, Fla., and our sixth EchoPark store in Colorado. We believe these investments will offer strong earning streams as the underlying businesses mature. 

“Year to date, we also invested approximately $30 million returning capital to stockholders through dividends and share repurchases,” Smith continued. “Our facilities teams have been extremely busy as well, evidenced by the $121 million invested in capital expenditures during the first half of 2017. 

“We are committed to offering the best customer buying experience in the industry, which includes state-of-the-art facilities at both our franchised dealerships and EchoPark stores,” he went on to say.

Group 1 sets F&I gross profit per unit mark


Group 1 Automotive established a new record gross profit per unit through its F&I department during the second quarter. But softened used- and new-vehicle sales in areas where the bulk of its dealerships are located — Texas and Oklahoma — left a significant impact on the dealer group’s top-line performance.

According to its latest financial statement released on Thursday, on a same-store basis, the company’s U.S. revenues came in at $2.1 billion in Q2, a year-over-year decrease of 2.7 percent. Total same-store gross profit was essentially flat. Group 1 explained the revenue decrease reflects 5.7 percent and 4.9 percent declines in same-store retail new and used unit sales, respectively.

Group 1 stores retailed a 25,202 used vehicles in Q2, down from 26,856 units during the same quarter a year earlier. The dealer group wholesaled 2.4 percent more vehicles in Q2, sending 9,701 units through those channels. That’s up from 9,476 units in the year-ago period.

As mentioned, Group 1 stores generated a 5.4 percent or $86 increase in F&I gross profit per unit to post a new company record at $1,688.

And while U.S. same-store parts and service revenue increased 5.6 percent, “these factors were not enough to offset ongoing weakness in vehicle sales in our energy-price-impacted markets. Combined new and used sales dropped 7 percent in the quarter for our Texas and Oklahoma stores,” said Earl Hesterberg, Group 1’s president and chief executive officer.

“Our single largest market of Houston was extremely volatile in the second quarter, with Houston total industry auto sales dropping 24 percent in June after an increase in May,” Hesterberg continued. “Group 1's Houston sales only decreased 12 percent in June, but this is indicative of the headwinds we continue to face in much of Texas and Oklahoma.”

In other company news, Group 1 also announced it has acquired its first Jaguar and Land Rover dealerships in the U.S., which are located in Albuquerque and Santa Fe, N.M. Management indicated the stores have projected annualized revenues of $40 million.

The addition of these two stores expands the company's global network to seven Land Rover and seven Jaguar franchises. The dealerships, which operate as Jaguar Land Rover Albuquerque and Land Rover Santa Fe, are the only Jaguar and Land Rover dealerships in the state of New Mexico, and expand the company’s presence to 15 states in the U.S.

Data analytics provider enhances reporting software to save dealers time & clicks


Dashboard Dealership Enterprises has redesigned its business analytic reporting suite for increased functionality using input from dealer clients.

Executive Eye 3.0, the latest version of Dashboard’s flagship product, offers a variety of graphic display options designed to help dealers easily navigate the program.

New visual enhancements include updated colorful themes, more white space and increased organization.

"Reporting has always been clunky, time consuming; often it’s difficult for dealers to understand how numbers translate into actionable data," Dashboard Dealership Enterprises chief executive officer Josh Blick said in a news release. "Executive Eye 3.0 is a groundbreaking tool that completely changes the paradigm of how a business analytic reporting tool can be used. Instead of spending time compiling reports, managers instantly have actionable data at their fingertips."

In beta testing, Executive Eye 3.0 exhibited a 30 percent increase in dealership usage compared to an average usage of 2.0, according to Dashboard.

The suite’s direct messaging capabilities allow dealers to communicate directly with Dashboard's customer support and other users. The messaging tool’s reports, alerts and comments can all be shared without the need to compose emails outside of Executive Eye.

Additionally, Executive Eye’s Consolidated Doc report allows dealers to instantly combine documents from individual stores into a single report.

Dealers interested in performance comparison can also view key performance indicators from each of their stores side-by-side.

Executive Eye 3.0 is mobile-friendly across all platforms and devices. A mobile application download is not needed to access the software on a mobile device.

Asbury to discontinue Q auto used-car business

DULUTH, Ga.  - 

Asbury Automotive Group will be exiting its Q auto used-car standalone store business, chief operating officer David Hult said on a quarterly conference call Tuesday morning.

A company spokesperson said via email that the closing process began at its two remaining Q auto stores — which are located in Brandon, Fla., and Tampa — on Monday.

Most likely, Asbury will sell the physical properties. As for the inventory at those stores, the dealer group plans to distribute it to other Asbury stores, the spokesperson said.

The company is “currently attempting to reposition employees to other areas within our organization,” the spokesperson said.

During Tuesday’s call, Hult said the closure of Q auto does not mean the group is slowing down its emphasis on used vehicles.

“With our investments in digital technologies and lead management initiatives, we have reassessed our brick-and-mortar investment in Q auto and made the decision to exit the remaining two locations,” Hult said. “With this decision, we are not decreasing our emphasis on used-vehicle sales.

“Rather, we are focusing our investments and resources on alternative routes to market that we believe will provide a superior return,” he said. “Our attention to the used-car business is evident by the more than 500 basis point-increase in our used-to-new ratio this quarter.”

In the Q&A portion of the call, chief executive officer Craig Monaghan downplayed the financial impacts associated with the used-car standalone store project.

“The financial impact (of Q auto) in the quarter was immaterial; the financial impact going forward of not having Q auto will be immaterial,” he said.

Despite Asbury not being able to pull down “an attractive ROI” from Q auto, Monaghan said the company does not regret making the investment.

“I think it was something that we had to try,” he said.

Monaghan went on to note two primary learnings the retailer took away from the Q auto project.

“One is, it’s all about where you source your inventory,” he said. “And if you’re going to auction to buy a car, you’re the last one with your hand up. And that’s not a situation we wanted to be in. We really have come to the conclusion that we can move our traded vehicles to our stores as effectively or more effectively than we can move them to an off-site location.

“And secondly, we learned that a lot of those buyers are going to be subprime buyers,” Monaghan said. “And that without the captive finance company, running a standalone used-vehicle operation, you are somewhat at a disadvantage.

“We decided strategically that we did not want to be in the business of lending money to used-car buyers,” he said. “And take that all together, we’ve made the decision to exit the business.”

Enhanced online used-car parts marketplace launches


PartCycle Technologies recently introduced an upgraded online used-car-parts platform ( designed to give dealers an efficient way to get the parts they need for their service/parts customers.

The company offers an online recycled auto parts marketplace. 

In a news release, the company gives the example of University Toyota in Tuscumbia, Ala.,  which since integrating PartCycle into its service operations, has been able to make more service transactions.

The dealership credits PartCycle’s offerings for its recent growth because they have been able to get quality low-cost OEM parts options, and that pleases customers.

"We see customers who need to fix their car, but simply cannot afford the new part cost," University Auto Family fixed operations director Owen Kilmury said in a news release.

"Some customers have had to forego the recommended repair service because of part cost. PartCycle allows a dealership to retain a customer that we otherwise would have lost due to the price of certain new parts. The customer gets a quality part, at a fraction of the price, and the dealership retains a customer that otherwise would have been lost," he said.

PartCycle currently has over 4 million parts in stock and carries an inventory sourced from 55-plus professional automotive recycler locations across the U.S.

"We get all the options we need in a single PartCycle search," said parts manager Chris Britt of University Toyota. "I've spent the better part of a day just waiting on callbacks for parts, but with PartCycle I find what I need quickly and easily, then can include those options in customer quotes. Then they can get what they need for their vehicle."

Additionally, PartCycle currently offers free shipping, standard 180-day warranty coverage and 30-day returns on all parts.