Despite an agonizingly slow economic recovery, the country’s largest auto retailer, Fort Lauderdale-based AutoNation, is thriving again as demand for vehicles expands.
The company, one of Florida’s largest, is posting increasingly strong profits and revenues. Just last week, in a sign of confidence, Autonation announced a major acquisition — buying six large auto stores in Texas — that will add about 700 employees to its national payroll of 19,400.
In announcing the deal Tuesday, which is expected to provide AutoNation with $575 million in additional revenues next year, the company’s CEO and chairman, Mike Jackson, expressed optimism about the prospects for continued growth in vehicle sales.
“You want to know what I’m thinking, look at what I do,” Jackson told viewers on CNBC’s Squawk Box program.
No information was released on the cost of the transactions, but in recent years auto dealerships sometimes sold for three to five times revenue, which would represent a significant investment for the company.
To be sure, AutoNation has struggled through some tough times. It was battered by the Great Recession, which depressed sales and pushed the company into a $1.2 billion loss four years ago. As sales began to improve in 2010 and 2011, it was blindsided by a shortage of Japanese-made cars last year after the earthquake and tsunami in March 2011 shut down Japanese manufacturers of some essential components.
Since then, however, AutoNation has rebounded. Unit sales, revenues and profits all performed well in the first three quarters of this year, and the company expects new vehicle sales to continue their recovery nationwide, rising to the mid-14 million units this year, up from about 12.7 million in 2011. In the third quarter of 2012, AutoNation’s new car unit sales grew by 21 percent over the same period in 2011, doing better than an estimated 15 percent increase industry wide. November’s sales of new vehicles increased by 21 percent over November 2011 .
The big dealerships acquired sell Audi, Porsche, Volkswagen and Chrysler products in the Houston and Dallas-Fort Worth markets. They are expected to sell 14,000 new and used autos this year, and will add substantially to AutoNation’s future sales.
“We are in the right industry at the right time,” Jackson said during an interview. “The recovery in new vehicle sales is being driven by replacement demand,” added Jackson, who has 42 years of experience in the auto business. “The average age of the light vehicle fleet in the country has increased to 11 years, and even though cars and trucks last longer today, they can’t go on forever. About 12 to 13 million vehicles are scrapped every year and need to be replaced.”
Other factors are contributing to stronger demand for vehicles. “The population is growing, interest rates are low, there is ample credit available and manufacturers are producing a wide range of new models that offer attractive styling, power and greatly improved gas mileage,” said Jackson, who took over as AutoNation’s CEO in 1999. “Auto financing is more available than it has been in recent years. A little known fact is that people are more likely to default on a mortgage than on a vehicle loan.”