AutoNation Inc., formerly Republic Industries Inc., is negotiating with Ford Motor Co. to convert one of its AutoNation USA used-car superstores into a Ford new-car dealership.
The planned conversion is the first confirmed by AutoNation. The company, based in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., announced in early February that it would boost its underperforming AutoNation USA used-car chain by moving new-car franchises into an undetermined number of used-car superstores.
In this case, AutoNation said it wants to move its Seminole Ford dealership in Sanford, Fla., to an existing AutoNation USA superstore, also in Sanford, which is northeast of Orlando.
Before Ford gives its final approval to the move, it wants assurances that the converted dealership will be a Ford new-car dealership and not an AutoNation USA used-car store that happens to sell new vehicles, according to Ford spokeswoman Anne Doyle.
The AutoNation brand 'certainly could be a part of it but it would have to clearly communicate to customers right away that it's a Ford dealership,' Doyle said.
Concern over how its new-car brands are represented has caused Ford to block the relocation of at least two of its dealerships to used-car superstores owned by CarMax Group, the Richmond, Va.-based chain. Ford has said it does not want its new vehicles sold in what is ultimately a used-car dealership.
Neither Ford nor AutoNation would reveal what changes would have to be made at the AutoNation USA store in Sanford.
Although AutoNation's new-car dealerships have done well, its chain of 45 AutoNation USA used-car dealerships has lost money consistently. AutoNation is reviewing all 45 dealerships to see whether it would make sense to relocate a new-car franchise to any of them.
'We recognize there's a need to maximize the megastore sites' performances, and we believe this is a way to do that,' said AutoNation spokesman Oscar Suris.
He would not say whether the conversion of the Sanford store was because of that specific store's performance.
NOT A DONE DEAL
Ford has sent notice to the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles that it intends to approve the franchise relocation.
Doyle said the notification is just a step in the relocation process and nothing has been finalized with AutoNation.
'This is definitely not a done deal,' she said.
One Ford dealer has filed a protest against the franchise relocation with the state department.
Ed Lacey, owner of Deland Ford and Deland Lincoln-Mercury in Orange City, Fla., said the conversion of the AutoNation USA store will put a Ford dealership within 12 miles of his own - too close for his comfort.
Florida has no laws dictating how close a franchised new-car dealership can move to another of the same franchise, according to the state department.
Said Lacey: 'This isn't a personal thing. ... I just exercised my right to protest.'