FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- A profitable, healthier AutoNation is injecting millions into its operations and acquiring dealerships as the industry emerges from the depths of a depression.
The nation's largest public dealership group is adding stores, investing in technology and growing its upstart online-buying program.
Since 2007, dealership acquisitions or investments were stalled as the economy worsened.
AutoNation -- which reported a $65 million net profit in the third quarter, including a 44 percent increase over last year in profit from continuing operations -- says its strategy of "playing defense" is over.
"We have never been more optimistic about the state of the industry," CEO Mike Jackson told Automotive News last week at the company's headquarters here. "We are at the bottom of the depression, but things are coming back. In terms of profitability, I like our position."
Among its brands, the group wants to add more Audi and Volkswagen stores and is considering adding Hyundai stores.
Those acquisitions will be above the previously announced $150 million in capital expenditures in 2010, a 65 percent increase in spending.
Some of that buying is already taking place -- and at bargain prices.
On Oct. 30, AutoNation purchased a Honda and Acura dealership in Spokane, Wash., for 40 percent of the dealership's list price in 2006.
"Prices have come down significantly," AutoNation COO Michael Maroone said. "And we will continue to look for those kinds of opportunities."
Said Jackson: "As pricing gets competitive, we will get competitive fast."