The market for buying and selling dealerships has been in a deep freeze this year. But last week's round of financial results from public retailers suggests that things may be loosening up a little.
AutoNation CEO Mike Jackson said that if a desirable store is available at a good price, "we will do what it takes to get it."
The six largest retail groups all posted profits that increased from the third quarter of 2008. AutoNation, the largest group, said it will boost spending next year to update and buy stores. Still, Jackson was cautious.
"There's a backlog of sellers that are waiting," he said. "But we think there needs to be more movement on price before we're ready. The seller still has this idea that everything's going to go back to the way it was."
Jackson added: "We're perfectly positioned to go on the offense rather than go on the defense."
Group 1 is nearly ready to purchase more dealerships, CEO Earl Hesterberg said. But he added, "Pricing in the market hasn't come down enough to offset the reduced profit potential of many of these stores."
Penske Automotive Group will consider acquisitions.
"We're going to be opportunistic, especially in markets where we have contiguous operations," said CEO Roger Penske. "But it's not a priority. We're not going to take big steps like we did in the past because we want to get the SAAR up to 14, 15 million."
Sonic Automotive posted its third straight quarterly profit last week, just seven months after warning of possible bankruptcy. CFO David Cosper said Sonic isn't ready to start buying dealerships, but it is reconsidering plans to sell some stores.
Sonic had put 15 dealerships on the market when it was facing bankruptcy. It sold three but now plans to leave only five or seven for sale.