Dealers stick to what works -- like selling all brands of used cars

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Walking past a local Chevrolet dealership a few weeks ago, I couldn't help notice a 2009 blue Saab 9-3 sedan sitting front and center on the used-car lot.

The sedan had 26,000 miles on it and a price tag of about $19,000.

Despite the Chevrolet sign above it, within a few days that Saab was sold.

When I think of the pre-recession days, a Saab on a Chevy used-car lot would have been practically unheard of. But stocking off-brand used cars, and selling them at retail, helped many dealers through the recession. Off-brand means a used car that is of a brand other than the brand the dealer represents.

In years past, many dealers would sell those off-brand cars to auctions for fear the vehicle would gather dust sitting on their lot. The recession changed that; dealers happily sold any brand of used vehicle.

So as sales of new vehicles rise, will dealers return to the practices of years past?

Not if recent observations are any indication.

A BMW finance manager told me the store got a late-model used Subaru on a trade recently. She said it was sold within a day. And she says her store will do more off-brand trades whenever it can.

Many manufacturers prefer that their dealers stock used cars within the franchise family. That allows them to certify the vehicles and helps boost residual values.

And most dealers are on board with that plan, but dealers are also on board with making money.

Dealers learned a lot of good business practices as they rode out the recession. One of those ideas was selling off-brand used vehicles at retail.

And good ideas tend to stick around.

You can reach Jamie LaReau at jlareau@crain.com. -- Follow Jamie on Twitter

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