Lots of automakers' representatives played tourist this year and took a swing through the two Atlanta locations of CarMax, the used-car superstore. Most just wanted to see what all the fuss was about, and why customers who hated shopping at traditional dealerships loved CarMax.
But the announcement that one of those visitors, Chrysler Corp., actually would grant CarMax a new-car franchise shook the industry.
Pundits declared a revolution in auto retailing had arrived, and said the car business would never be the same. With a Chrysler franchise in hand, could Chevrolet or Ford be far behind for CarMax?
The success of the CarMax concept - which has inspired such imitators as CarChoice and AutoNation USA - was voted by the Automotive News staff as the coup of the year for 1995.
Historically, the industry built its retail system on the independent entrepreneur-franchisee. The new CarMax store will be accountable to a board of directors. That board's main job is running CarMax's parent, Circuit City Stores, whose main business is electronic goods. With CarMax now a franchisee, the industry will be waiting to see if other used-car superstores will also seek new-car franchises. The death knell for the franchise system as we know it? Perhaps not - but the retail landscape will never be the same.