Rebranding effort aids AutoNation's community giving

ATLANTA -- AutoNation Inc. has rebranded nearly 40 percent of its dealerships with its coast-to-coast AutoNation name. And, contrary to early fears within the nation's largest auto dealership group, AutoNation says it is maintaining or increasing share in those converted markets.

That's despite the loss of longtime regional brands, such as Bankston and Maroone, that were dropped from the stores.

"There was a great deal of trepidation in walking away from names up to 80 years old that we would have to go through a very disruptive period and we would have to go through a valley of difficulties and persevere and come out the other side," AutoNation CEO Mike Jackson told me last week.

He was in Atlanta to celebrate the changing of the company's local dealership signs from Team to AutoNation. "That's not the case. It's working from Day One."

Another thing Jackson expects to improve under the unified brand name is AutoNation's charitable efforts.

The Fort Lauderdale, Fla., company today announced that its primary charitable focus during the next two years will be cancer awareness and prevention. AutoNation is partnering with Racing for Cancer, a charity founded by IndyCar racer Ryan Hunter-Reay.

Through 2014, AutoNation will match the first $500,000 raised through Racing for Cancer. That will replace some of the retailer's existing charitable contributions.

In 2012, AutoNation donated $1 million to charities. It spent another $1.5 million on capital multiyear commitments such as the sponsorship of what is now called the AutoNation Academy of Art and Design, the educational branch of the Museum of Art Fort Lauderdale in Florida.

Jackson expects the company will donate more overall with its centralized charitable strategy enabled by the rebranding campaign.

"We can now embrace certain efforts from coast to coast and have the entire enterprise move behind one effort," Jackson said. "And that wasn't possible before. It was just too fractured."

IndyCar driver Ryan Hunter-Reay, left, with AutoNation executives Mike Jackson, center, and Michael Maroone. Photo credit: AUTONATION

Cancer was chosen as AutoNation's initial cause because it has affected the lives of many of the retailer's employees. It already was a focus of store employees in their community-level giving.

Jackson, whose wife, Alice, is a breast cancer survivor, recently worked to raise money for an American Cancer Society fundraiser in Fort Lauderdale. AutoNation COO Michael Maroone is involved in the Dolphins Cycling Challenge, which raises money for cancer research. Jackson and Maroone plan to participate in cancer events in AutoNation markets across the country.

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