Consolidation Nation

Berkshire Hathaway acquired 78 dealerships when it purchased the former Van Tuyl group this year, but it was only one of many recent mergers and acquisitions in the dealer space.

December 2015, Auto Dealer Today - Feature

by Stephanie Forshee - Also by this author

Over the past few years, M&As have become cool again. In 2015 alone, two of the largest dealer groups in the country made mega-buys that shocked the industry.

With Lithia Motors Inc. acquiring DCH Automotive, and Berkshire Hathaway scooping up the Van Tuyl Group, the mergers and acquisitions scene was once again high on the industry’s things-to-watch list. As such, we’ve compiled information on recent M&A activity within the automotive industry for the past several years.

You can see for yourself the pace at which publicly traded dealer groups have been acquiring stores since 2009. You can also glance at each of the publics’ revenue and the amount of cash on hand to take a guess at who might be buying next. For instance, AutoNation had $75.4 million cash on hand, while Group 1 Automotive had $40 million cash on hand at the end of 2014; more acquisitions should come as no surprise. Of course, cash on hand doesn’t mean they have to spend it, but activity in recent years suggests it’s a real possibility.

Warren Buffett was onto something when he said in a statement last fall about the Van Tuyl Group buy, “This is the beginning of a journey that will have no end. … The fun has just started.”

Erin Kerrigan, founder and managing director of Irvine, Calif.-based Kerrigan Advisors, agrees. The Berkshire Hathaway and DCH deals made national news, and rightly so, she says, but the industry has seen a lot of “onesies, twosies” as well, and that trend will continue. Kerrigan said that if a dealership has at least $800,000 in annual sales, it could be a target for acquisition. But that’s not always a sure thing.

“It depends on the client’s needs,” she says.

She lists “talent” among the most important assets a buyer likes to see in a franchise. She says that, in most cases, the buyer retains the majority of employees in dealership buys. And the interest goes both ways. Dealers who are looking to retire may go looking for a buyer, as was reportedly the case with Seattle-based Barrier Motors, which was acquired by AutoNation for a reported $200 million last September.

All that dealmaking has ignited a spark in the industry, Kerrigan says, adding, “The acquisitions were a big surprise and exciting for the industry.”

Stephanie Forshee is the former senior editor of Auto Dealer Today and F&I and Showroom. She has expertise in dealership operations, sales and F&I. SForshee@AutoDealerMonthly

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