With automobile prices ballooning to egregiously high levels, one might assume that the industry would be in rough shape. But they’d be dead wrong. Supply chain disruptions have actually created a captive market where consumers are desperate to lay their hands on whatever products are available. In the automotive realm, this has allowed retailers to set ludicrous prices and rake in larger profits per transaction. While inflation may eventually catch up to these entities, the gravy train is currently parked at the station and dousing big business with its warm, brown effluence.
Nobody knows this better than the folks at AutoNation. Because the company just released a quarterly profit report that blew its rosiest projections out of the water. Net income its ongoing operations was $361.7 million for Q3 2021, double the $182.6 million witnessed in Q3 of 2020, while revenue rose 18 percent to $6.4 billion.
Given the constant hassles of Volkswagen Golf ownership lately, and how every media outlet is shouting “Highest Used Car Pricing Ever” as loudly as possible, I’ve been pondering selling the Golf to a dealer. No Facebook idiots, no trade-in for something else, just a sale.
Here in The Current Year, there are many companies that purport to give you both the best deal possible and make the car selling process seamless. I found out this week what five such companies are like in the early stages.
When the United States announced it would be offering payroll relief to the countless small businesses it impacted with government shutdowns intended to combat COVID-19 earlier this year, everyone breathed a sigh of relief into their mask. Unfortunately, the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) became a confusing bureaucratic mess almost instantly. It wasn’t clear how companies would account for part-time or contracted employees, numerous banks denied help to those with less than stellar financial histories, and the application website repeatedly crashed — which was awful for a service that was designed to accommodate candidates on a first-come-first-serve basis.
There were also numerous provisions that allowed big business to take advantage if their individual locations were small enough and loopholes for companies that weren’t even required to shut down operations. Criticisms understandably began to surface, followed by months of commercials asking concerned citizens to report instances of fraud. One such example came into focus this week after a former sales representative for a Pennsylvania-based dealership group launched a federal lawsuit against their ex-employer alleging that it had violated the False Claims Act in relation to PPP.
AutoNation’s collision parts division is scheduled to be eliminated by the end of 2020, freeing up some cash after the two-year endeavor proved less than profitable.
Former CEO Cheryl Miller had made it clear that one of her main goals for the company was to ramp up services in an attempt to enhance revenue and diversify the business. But this tactic has proven perilous for the automotive industry at large, often offsetting opportunities to make money with sizable financial risks.
Mobility is probably the best example of this, as its broad enough to encompass everything from self-driving vehicles to subscription models and relies on the market maturing into something that will presumably see returns on investment years down the line. However, AutoNation’s diversification was far more traditional. It seemed like a sure thing, since the collision parts business was forecast to grow over the next five years. In fact, despite being the the largest automotive retailer in the United States, the company actually owes 46 percent of its gross profit to parts and service. Selling cars (both new and used) only accounts for 24 percent — with the rest coming from finance and insurance.
Having already pulverized the dead horse of waning auto sales into a fine paste, we’ll now turn our focus on how it’s impacting employment among automotive retailers — squashing another pony.
Much of the information up until this point has been anecdotal and conditional to the North American response to COVID-19. Furloughs were rampant as the pandemic progressed and new safety rules seemed poised to cripple sales moving forward. There was an obvious general plight confronting automotive retailers, but we couldn’t nail down what that meant in terms of job losses.
We still don’t, frankly. But it is starting to become obvious that there isn’t much reason to be exceptionally optimistic. AutoNation recently announced that around half of the 7,000 workers it furloughed in April won’t be coming back. Despite some retailers claiming not to need such drastic cuts, plenty are following AutoNation’s model. With fewer customers and sweeping restrictions on how showrooms can be operated, there’s little reason for there to be all hands on deck. But just how many will be forced to abandon ship this year?
After furloughing staff in response to the coronavirus pandemic, AutoNation has gradually allowed employees to return back to work. Half of the 7,000 people asked to take it easy in April won’t be coming back at all, however.
The automotive retailer has decided to permanently cut 3,500 jobs so it can focus on its bottom line and what it has unsettlingly called “the new normal” — a term frequently used to rationalize unsavory actions taken during the health crisis.
With customers unable to leave their homes to purchase cars, it’s to be expected that America’s largest automotive retailer would need to engage in some light restructuring. It also happens to have the best excuse imaginable for nuking a large portion of its workforce. Back in April, when the AutoNation was furloughing employees, it received nearly $95 million in federal small-business funds via the Payment Protection Program (PPP). A subset of anonymous staff members were said to have leaked the details to the media after deciding the firm was taking cash allocated for smaller outfits.
Outrage ensued and the company sheepishly returned the money.
With enhanced scrutiny and plenty of differing opinions being heaped upon the government loans issued to help soften the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic, the Small Business Administration (SBA) has signaled plans to conduct comprehensive investigations before offering any loan forgiveness. Under normal circumstances, one would expect that to be the typical course of action for all loans. But the scope of the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) has complicated things.
Designed to provide a direct incentive for small businesses to keep workers on the payroll, the program earned heaps of criticism after millions of dollars were allocated to groups that didn’t exactly constitute small businesses. While the list is long, standouts include the Los Angles Lakers and Ruth’s Hospitality Group. We’re more interested in the United States’ largest new-vehicle retailers, AutoNation and Penske Automotive — both of which received millions via the SBA’s Paycheck Protection Program.
At least twenty upper-echelon executives have left AutoNation since the start of 2014, with the vast majority bailing within two years. Short stints with an employer and lackluster job stability may be the norm for bottom-rung millennials but senior managers with years of experience have a tendency to stick around a while.
That doesn’t necessarily mean there is something sinisterly “up” with the largest automotive retailer in the United States, but it does leave you wondering about its future. This concern was heightened after AutoNation’s chief operating officer, Bill Berman, suddenly resigned last week, not even four months after being named president.
Used vehicles with open recalls have begun rolling off AutoNation lots again, 16 months after the country’s largest new vehicle retailer promised an end to the practice.
The retailer, which has a half-billion dollar used vehicle expansion plan in the works, blames the about-face on the incoming Trump administration, with its CEO declaring that the legislative fight for mandatory used car recall repair is dead in the water.
When is a Gregorian calendar not a calendar? When December 2015 ends on January 4, 2016.
AutoNation CEO Mike Jackson brought greater attention to the subject of the unnecessarily convoluted auto sales calendar when, in a conversation with Automotive News reporter Amy Wilson, Jackson said, “It’s ridiculous that I have to get on the air and explain the industry calendar to make sense of sales.”
The CEO of the largest car dealer in the U.S. told Reuters on Wednesday that automakers shouldn’t base incentives on volume, which could jeopardize cutting profits.
“We really have to watch the quality of volume,” AutoNation CEO Mike Jackson told Reuters. “We have to find the right balance between price and volume.”
Jackson said he doesn’t anticipate auto sales to waver far from 2015’s record year, but he does foresee “entering a new chapter” with weaker demand for cars.
TrueCar announced Monday that it hired former AutoTrader CEO Chip Perry to help the third-party vendor turn around a turbulent year of departing executives and crumbling business relations.
According to a statement released by TrueCar, Perry will take over for current CEO and founder Scott Painter on Dec. 15. Perry will also be president of the company, a position which was also vacated earlier this year.
“My initial focus will be on TrueCar’s dealer partners – listening to them and finding ways to serve them better,” Perry said in a statement. Painter had a public, messy breakup with AutoNation this summer and a $14.7 million loss in the second quarter.
AutoNation won’t sell any cars with open recalls, used or new, at its dealerships, according to Automotive News.
AutoNation CEO Mike Jackson said the costly policy would mean that roughly 5 percent to 10 percent of cars on its lots would be unsellable at any one time. The change in policy for AutoNation comes while different bills work their way through Congress that could prohibit used car dealers to sell cars without recall repair work.
“The recall situation for the U.S. auto industry is a black eye. It is a dysfunctional nightmare that the industry should be ashamed of, and customers are right to be angry and confused,” Jackson told Automotive News. “As part of the industry, we have to hold a mirror up and say, ‘What can we do better as a company?'”