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AutoNation Discusses CFPB, Digital Push

July 24, 2014

FORD LAUDERDALE, Fla. — In a quarter in which it posted record second-quarter earnings per share (EPS) from continuing operations, AutoNation’s F&I operations realized an 11.5% increase in revenue from a year ago and a $9 million, or 5%, increase in total gross profit.

Average gross profit per vehicle retailed for the nation’s largest auto group rose $23, or 2%, from a year ago to $1,398. For the first six months of 2014, PVR rose $45, or 3.3%, from a year ago to $1,395. The group achieved this during a quarter in which it installed in nine stores the National Automobile Dealers Association (NADA)’s Fair Credit Compliance Program in response to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB)’s scrutiny of rate markups.

“It’s been successfully implemented without much disruption and no impact on results,” Mike Jackson, Chairman and CEO, said of the NADA’s program, which calls on dealers to document variations in rate markups on retail finance contracts. “We will now take it to additional stores on a gradual basis.”

Jackson added that he believes banks, dealers and the CFPB will eventually come to some sort of agreement regarding how finances sources compensate dealers in the indirect financing channel.

“And that will unfold over the course of the year, but my expectation will be some sort of agreement and some sort of common ground,” said Jackson, who also responded to a question about reports that the CFPB is turning its attention to F&I product sales.

“We have seen zero real activity in that area,” he said. “All the focus is on the reserve amount.”

In the second quarter, AutoNation posted second quarter net income from continuing operations of $101 million, or a second-quarter record of $0.83 per share, compared to $90 million, or $0.73 per share, in the year-ago period.

The dealer group also reported revenue of $4.8 billion, up from $4.4 billion in the year-ago quarter. That 8% increase was driven by stronger performance in new vehicles, parts and service, and finance and insurance.

Total gross profit for variable operations on a same-store basis was $3,279 per vehicle, a $67, or 2%, increase. Same-store new-vehicle revenue increased $200 million, or 8%, from a year ago to $2.7 billion on the sale of 79,000 units, a 6% increase. The dealer group also posted new-vehicle gross profit of $159 million, up 10 million, or 7%, from a year ago. New-vehicle gross profit per vehicle retailed was $2,008.

Retail revenue for used-vehicle sale was $976 million, an increase of $23 million, or 2%, on 52,000 used vehicles retailed, which was flat with a year ago. Revenue per used vehicle retailed increased $527, or 3%, to $18,836. Retail used-vehicle gross profit was $87 million, up $4 million, or 5%, from a year ago, while gross profit per used-vehicle retailed was $1,687, an increase of $91 per vehicle, or 6%.

Parts and service recorded a posted record revenue and gross profit, with revenue increasing $41 million to $696 million. Total gross profit grew 6%, or $17 million, to $297 million.

Jackson also provided an update on the company’s digital retailing drive, saying the group is ahead of expectations in terms of acceptance of the brand and the amount of traffic being generated by the group’s digital sites. He also announced the group is moving into the next phase of its digital push.

“So we’ve decided to accelerate the new phase, which is increasing our marketing around the brand AutoNation to drive even more customers to our digital sites and, of course, a big investment in the capabilities of the site itself, which the next step would be that the site goes transactional at the end of the year …,” Jackson said, noting that customers will be able to select a vehicle, get a committed price and submit a deposit without ever entering one of the group’s stores.

Jackson said digital sites will be expanded next year to allow the group to appraise and purchase customer trade-ins. They will also be able to provide customers with quotes on financing. “This is our strategic vision, if you will, that we believe today’s customer and future customers want one experience, not an online experience and an in-store experience, but one seamless experience where they can interact and transact both digitally and in the store,” he said, noting that the AutoNation will invest an additional $100 million over the next two years to solidify the brands, increase site traffic and add transaction capabilities to its digital sites.

Jackson, however, stopped short of providing a timetable on how things will play out. “So it’s certainly not the end of the story over the next two years,” he said. “There will be more chapters, but we’re in a very ambitious and exciting phase. I call it an investment phase.”

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