DULUTH, Ga. — Asbury Automotive COO David Hult called the group's F&I performance in the third quarter a "small setback" compared to previous quarters, noting that he remains hopeful for the coming quarter.

Asbury third-quarter F&I profit per vehicle stayed essentially flat compared to last year, increasing by $1 from the prior-year quarter to $1,393 this year.

“I would tell you, it’s a combination of a few things, our F&I PVR in the quarter,” Hult said during the group's Oct. 20 earnings call. “It’s a combination of charge-backs, some turnover in folks and in some cases ...  just poor performance in product sales.”

The decline in new- and used-vehicle sales also hurt total F&I gross profit, which fell 1.7% from a year ago to $64.7 million on a same-store basis.

During the third quarter, the dealer group sold 26,656 new vehicles, a 2.8% decrease from the year before, and 19,774 used vehicles, a 2.6% reduction from a year ago. The average price for a new vehicle grew by 2.7%, while the average price for a used vehicle grew by 2%. However, the increase in unit cost was not enough to offset the decline in volume.

“While our new unit volumes moved in line with the industry, we experienced new margin pressure due to a combination of lower manufacturer incentives and aggressive sales objectives,” said Craig Monaghan, president and CEO of Asbury Automotive. “Our used vehicle business was adversely impacted by stop-sale inventory associated with ongoing factory recalls.”

Overall gross profit for new cars shrunk by 7.4% on a year-over-year basis to $47.4 million. On the used side, overall gross profits declined by 7.7% on a year-over-year basis to $29.9 million.

On a per-unit basis, every new unit sold generated an average of $1,778 in sam-store gross profit, a 4.8% year-over-year decline. Additionally, every used car sold generated an average of $1,613, a 3.7% decline compared to last year.

Total gross profit inched down 0.2% from a year ago to $264.2 million.  

The lone bright spot in the group's variable operations was certified pre-owned sals, which Hult said grew 7% from a year ago. As a percentage of total sales, CPO sales accounted for about 35% to 40% of the group’s total used-car business. Hult noted that he sees CPO sales as a place for growth.

“We believe there is additional opportunity to grow our used-vehicle unit sales, specifically our CPO sales as additional off-lease inventory comes to market,” he said.  

Parts and services also prospered during the quarter, helping to offset some of the losses in other areas, Monaghan noted. During the quarter, parts and service generated $122.2 million, 6.5% more than it did during the same time last year.

“Going forward, we see further opportunities to grow our used vehicle, F&I and parts and service business,” Monaghan said.