Public group F&I results hit high note in Q4

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Group 1 Automotive's U.S. operations set a record with average F&I revenue per vehicle retailed of $1,418 in the fourth quarter, an increase of 9 percent from the same period a year ago.

The first publicly traded new-car retailers to report fourth-quarter earnings -- Group 1, AutoNation and Asbury Automotive -- all topped an average of $1,300 in F&I revenue per vehicle retailed.

Houston-based Group 1 has seen its fourth-quarter per-vehicle F&I average increase roughly $100 a year for the past three years, from $1,110 in the fourth quarter of 2010.

Group 1 CEO Earl Hesterberg said last week that Group 1 owes its success in F&I to a "focus on process" and concentrating on "value-added products for our customers."

The rest of the auto retail segment could say much the same thing. Per-vehicle F&I numbers have consistently increased for the public groups for the past couple of years.

AutoNation Inc. said its 2013 F&I per-vehicle average of $1,378 was its highest ever for the full year. At $1,361, its fourth-quarter F&I average was short of its own all-time quarterly record of $1,381 in the second quarter of 2013.

AutoNation COO Mike Maroone said during a conference call in January that the company concentrates on selling just two F&I products: extended service contracts and prepaid maintenance.

"And we've dramatically improved our penetration there," he added. "A lot of our focus, our pay plans, are driven toward those two products, and they drive people into our service drive and really make a difference in customer retention."

Asbury Automotive COO Michael Kearney said his group also is sticking to the basics. Asbury's average F&I revenue per vehicle was $1,328 in the fourth quarter, about 6 percent higher than in the year-earlier period.

"We've not introduced really any new products recently," he said during a conference call last week. "I think it is a function of execution, it's a function of training, and it's a function of emphasis that we put on those particular pieces with constant training program within our company, a constant certification program that goes on within our company."

You can reach Jim Henry at autonews@crain.com.

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