It's not just Bergstrom. The practices of the public dealership groups are closely watched throughout the automotive retailing world. In general, the public groups make more on F&I, and the difference largely is attributable to higher sales of products such as service contracts, experts say. The publics put a lot of emphasis on training, stressing consistent presentation of products to all customers going through the F&I office.
And over the past decade, F&I revenue at the publics has soared, now hovering near $1,000 per vehicle. In 2009's credit-challenged market, that revenue dropped. But publics on average still collected $986 in F&I revenue per new and used vehicle sold, down from $1,058 in 2008, according to an analysis by the Automotive News Data Center.
The six public companies reporting data to Automotive News had individual averages ranging from $883 to $1,116 in 2009.
On average, the largest private dealership groups make less -- but they're catching up. In 2009, the private groups on the Automotive News list of the nation's top 125 dealership groups averaged F&I revenue of $940 per new and used vehicle sold, down just slightly from 2008's average of $943.
Some private groups reported average revenue significantly higher than the publics. The individual averages of the privates cover much wider territory -- from $209 to $1,717.
Officials at NCM Associates Inc. in Overland Park, Kan., which consults with both private and public groups, say direct comparisons between the publics and privates can be tricky because of differences in reporting structure and franchise makeup.
Geography also can make a difference. Dealerships in the leasing-heavy Northeast traditionally take in less F&I revenue, says Pete DeLongchamps, vice president of Group 1 Automotive, the Houston-based public retailer.
Consistency is the key at the publics, says Charles Oglesby, Asbury Automotive CEO.
"All of us are concerned about compliance," Oglesby says, "so we have a menu-driven process that really puts everything in the consumer's hands. We also have limitations on the amount of money we can make on our customers on reserve. There's only so much margin that we will accept from our stores."