A $10,000 investment in General Motors stock three years ago would have been worth less than $7,000 by late January.
The same-sized stake in AutoNation Inc., the nation's largest public dealership group, would have soared to nearly $20,000 in value.
An investment in UnitedAuto Group Inc. would have more than tripled.
The comparison illustrates something that stock analysts have noted of late: The fate of shares in publicly traded dealership groups is not tied to that of U.S. automakers.
All public dealership group share prices have done well lately, even as GM and Ford Motor Co. stocks slid, says Sheldon Sandler, founder of Bel Air Partners, of Skillman, N.J.
Sandler, an investment banker who had roles in some dealerships going public, credits investors with "an intellectual leap" for differentiating between automakers and retailers.
"Investors are saying, 'There is a difference,'" Sandler says. "They have seen the financial results. They have seen the strong balance sheets."
That's good news for the dealership groups and holders of their stocks. But some experts see obstacles to further share value gains by the public groups.
Analysts also doubt that other private dealership groups are willing or able to go public. And another trend may be on the horizon: attempts by large private equity funds to acquire dealerships.
"Household names are looking at this, trying to make the right acquisitions," Sandler says. "But it's very difficult" given their criteria, he says.
Dealerships are being evaluated on their own merits as good cash-flowing businesses as opposed to quick-hit opportunities on Wall Street, Sandler says.
John Pico, vice president of Automotive Advisors of America Inc., agrees that the number of publicly traded groups isn't likely to grow, and it could decline if public groups merge or if one or more is taken private.
"What you see is what you're going to have," says Pico, a retired lawyer who became a Dallas-based consultant to dealers. "The glow has worn off."
In addition, he says, taking a company private automatically adds 2 percent to the gross profit margin simply because there are fewer legal requirements and disclosures.
Pico suggests that Capital Automotive Real Estate Investment Trust, of McLean, Va., which owns dealership properties in more than 30 states and leases them back to dealers, could be a precursor. It was taken private in a $3.4 billion deal last year.