Automotive News' top 125 U.S. dealership groups grew at a faster pace than the industry last year and they did it in a variety of ways.
The companies on the list retailed 2,215,765 new light vehicles, up 12 percent from the top 125 in 2010. The overall U.S. market was up 10 percent to 12.8 million.
In 2010, light vehicles retailed by the top 125 were up 14 percent over 2009, while the industry gained 11 percent. So U.S. auto retailing is becoming more concentrated. The top 125's share of the new-vehicle market rose to 17.3 percent last year from 16.6 percent in 2009.
While the industry's dealership count remained flat last year, the top 125 groups added 106 rooftops, or 4 percent, to 2,490.
In the two years since 2009, the worst sales year in almost three decades, the top 125 dealership groups have racked up substantial growth across all areas of operations. Their two-year tally: New-vehicle sales increased 28 percent, used-vehicle volume rose 27 percent and revenue from all departments jumped 36 percent to $143.4 billion.
The new-vehicle retail sales gain among the top 125 moderately outpaces the industry's two-year new-vehicle growth of 23 percent.
In 2009, dealership groups had to sell 2,200 new vehicles to make the top 125 list, which is ranked by sales in that category. It took 25,000 units to crack the top 10 and 61,000 to join the top 5.
Now the smallest group on the list tops 5,000 new-vehicle sales. The top 10 all exceed 30,000 units and it takes 96,000 to make the top 5.
Business strategies diverge widely among the top 125.
Take No. 8 Staluppi Auto Group of North Palm Beach, Fla., and No. 9 Lithia Motors Inc. of Medford, Ore. Over the past three years, Staluppi has sold almost three times as many new vehicles as used from its 24 stores. But publicly traded Lithia, with 86 smaller stores, sold as many used units as new over the same period.
Size also varies a lot. Eight groups have 2011 revenue of less than $300 million while 27 topped $1 billion. Five groups, including CarMax Inc., had 100 or more stores, but 43 had fewer than 10 rooftops.