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AutoNation dismisses acquisitions executive

UPDATED: 11/14/08 3:09 pm EST

AutoNation Inc., the nation’s largest auto dealership group, has dismissed a member of its acquisition team as U.S. auto sales plunge.

Spokesman Marc Cannon said today that Stephen Hyatt, vice president of corporate development, was let go as part of the company's drive to cut costs.

“AutoNation announced six months ago that 1,300 people would be let go as part of cost-reduction plans,” Cannon told Automotive News. “The (sales) rate was getting to where we would need to have some job eliminations. We’re not hiring new people.”

Cannon said AutoNation continues to look at opportunities, but “they must be the right deal.”

The company’s U.S. unit sales plunged 24 percent in the third quarter.

For the past 11 years, AutoNation, of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., has ranked No. 1 each year in the annual Automotive News ranking of the top U.S. dealership groups. In 1997, an acquisition spree gave the company, then called Republic Industries Inc., 111 new-vehicle dealerships.

But in recent years, the company has sold more dealerships than it has added. AutoNation has divested weak Detroit 3 franchises and added luxury and high-volume import brand dealerships.

Last year, AutoNation’s new-vehicle retail sales and gross revenue sank to their lowest annual levels since 1998, according to this year’s Automotive News list. In the first nine months of 2008, the company reported a net loss of $1.31 billion on revenue of $11.41 billion. The company, however, took a one-time charge this year of $1.61 billion for writing down the value of its properties.

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