One of America’s oldest car dealerships has changed hands.

Smart Toyota in Madison, Wisc., founded in 1908 as Smart Motors, was acquired by Baxter Auto Group from president and CEO J.R. Smart.

The sale ends 115 years of ownership by the Smart family, encompassing three generations and 28 franchises.

“I celebrated my 52nd anniversary at the dealership earlier this year,” Smart said. “And while my time is sunsetting at the helm of our family business, I had to ensure my teammates and the communities we serve were well cared for.

“I could have sold the dealership to any number of organizations, but I chose Mickey Anderson and the Baxter Auto Group. Commitment to quality, customer satisfaction and continuous improvement are our core values and I’m convinced they will continue to build off what our family has created since 1908.”

The buyer has quite a legacy in its own right. Baxter Auto Group is owned by the Anderson family of Omaha, Neb., which entered the auto business in 1957 when Tal Anderson went to work part-time at Baxter Chrysler-Plymouth in Omaha.

Anderson worked his way up the ladder and eventually was made a partner by dealership owner Johnny Baxter, who sold the business to Anderson in 1983. The Andersons kept the Baxter name out of respect for Johnny Baxter and for the value of continuity in business.

Baxter Auto Group now operates 21 dealerships throughout the Midwest and Mountain states.

“We’re so pleased and humbled at the opportunity to carry on the legacy and work of the Smart Family in Madison,” said Mickey Anderson, Baxter Auto’s current president and CEO. “To build on that history and commitment to quality is a challenge that we welcome. We will be diligent every day to carry on this great tradition.”

Mickey Anderson

The first car sold by founder O. D. Smart — J.R.’s grandfather — was an Apperson Jackrabbit, which he sold from his father’s livery in Waukesha. The Jackrabbit, which was built by hand, sold for $5,000, which is around $155,000 in 2023 dollars.

“It seems like every decade or so something throws a wrench into the works,” J.R. Smart said. “I’d say the very first hurdle my grandfather’s new business had to overcome was a lack of inventory – and the cost of a new car.”

Among the brands sold by Smart Motors were Studebaker, Packard, Crosley and Hudson. O.D.’s son James “F. J.” Smart partnered with Toyota in 1966.

Keffer Automotive acquires another NC dealership

Keffer Automotive Group, based in Charlotte, N.C., has acquired Team Chevrolet GMC Boone in Boone, N.C. from Team Automotive Group, according to Haig Partners, which represented the seller in the transaction.

“I went to school at Appalachian State many years ago, and I have always loved Boone,” Keffer Automotive owner Jim Keffer said. “We are delighted to be entering the Boone market. … We look forward to updating the facility and creating lots of great new relationships.”

Team Automotive president Kristin Dillard Sodoma said the sale will help fuel her company’s growth.

“Team Automotive is committed to growth,” she said, “and we believe that strategically selling stores in some of our smaller markets allows us to better direct our focus to fuel expansion in larger areas throughout the Southeast.”