DONNA HARRIS

Entrepreneurs alive and kicking even after 15 years of publicly owned dealerships

Donna Harris covers automotive retailing Automotive News.
I remember how nervous many privately owned dealers were 15 years ago when dealership groups started going public.

They were concerned the manufacturers might play favorites. They worried that the public dealers would have economies of scale unavailable to the average Joe dealer and that the public retailers would use their access to capital to take over the industry.

The threat never materialized. Automotive News data shows that the publicly held dealerships increased their share of the light vehicle market only slightly in the last decade -- from 5.0 percent in 2000 to 5.2 percent in 2010.

Sure, the manufacturers have limited the growth of the largest retailers, including those that are publicly held. And in many cases, the public retailers had to shed unprofitable stores they picked up on their initial shopping sprees.

But entrepreneurs also have competed effectively with their public counterparts. The last 15 years have shown that the car business -- even with the growth of Internet sales and marketing -- is still very much a local business.

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