DONNA HARRIS

Lithia strives for brand balance

Donna Harris covers retail issues for Automotive News
Sid DeBoer, CEO of Lithia Motors Inc. in Medford, Ore., used to favor Chrysler dealerships. Now domestic stores are off his shopping list.

Armed with $40 million-plus in cash from a public stock offering last year, DeBoer this week told analysts he is still hunting for acquisitions, but Lithia just has import stores in the pipeline.

That's a big shift for Lithia, which traditionally bought underperforming dealerships in small towns west of the Mississippi. Many were domestic stores in truck country that Lithia snapped up at a bargain, then turned them around showing healthy sales growth.

In the downturn, those stores became Lithia's Achilles heel.

DeBoer's new game plan calls for a balanced brand portfolio. Lithia shed some of its Chrysler stores and isn't looking to buy any more.

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