AutoNation Inc., the nation's largest dealership group, sold 35,000 prepaid maintenance plans in the fourth quarter last year -- about 40 percent of them from the service drive.
The extra sales captured in the service bays helped lift average finance and insurance income per vehicle 8 percent to $1,130, COO Michael Maroone told analysts in the company's latest conference call.
Although few dealerships will see AutoNation's high volume of service-lane sales, the economic downturn is prompting more dealers to peddle F&I products from the shop, vendors say.
With new-vehicle sales down, there's more traffic in the service drive than there is in the showroom. And products such as maintenance plans "are an important retention tool," Maroone said.
AutoNation's supplier, Safe-Guard Products International, of Atlanta, views shop sales as a hot growth opportunity for F&I.
"A dealer with 10 stores probably writes 150 service tickets a day in each store," says David Duncan, senior vice president of Safe-Guard. "Run the math. That's more than 30,000 customers per month, and there's definitely some low-hanging fruit there. If they have about 32,000 miles on the car, it's a great time to talk about extending the factory warranty."