Some luxury brands are giving AutoNation Inc., the country's largest auto retailer, the OK to put the AutoNation brand name on their dealerships.
But continued reluctance about retailer branding from the best-selling luxury automakers -- the German manufacturers, in particular -- may keep AutoNation's branding strategy from spreading to the rest of its network and throughout the industry.
Since announcing on Jan. 31 that it will rename its 160 domestic and mass-market import-brand stores, AutoNation has received the blessing of three luxury brands: Acura, Volvo and Infiniti. Those brands account for 11 more stores, two of which already have adopted the AutoNation moniker. The rest will be renamed by early June.
But AutoNation has not formally asked other luxury brands, including its largest, Mercedes-Benz. AutoNation has 17 Mercedes-Benz stores.
Steve Cannon, CEO of Mercedes-Benz USA, expressed reluctance about retailer brand names on Mercedes stores. The German automaker pushes retailers to use the vehicle brand and geographic location in store names: Mercedes-Benz of Fort Lauderdale, for example.
"I certainly understand AutoNation wants to have their brand and build their brand. That is their company, and they are responsible to their constituents and their shareholders," Cannon told Automotive News. "For us, it is the Mercedes-Benz brand that is the most important thing, and that is what we will continue to highlight in our public face."
AutoNation CEO Mike Jackson, who was the top U.S. Mercedes executive before moving to AutoNation in 1999, made a courtesy call to inform Cannon before the Jan. 31 branding announcement, Cannon said. But the parties have not had conversations about rebranding Mercedes-Benz stores.
Porsche hasn't been approached either, said Detlev von Platen, CEO of Porsche Cars North America. Like Mercedes-Benz, Porsche's dealership-naming policy is to use the vehicle brand name along with a geographic location.
"It's less confusing for the customers than having another group name up on this store," von Platen said.
AutoNation executives declined to be interviewed but issued a brief statement confirming the Volvo, Infiniti and Acura approvals. Cadillac already had approved the name change. The retailer's four Cadillac franchises and six Lincoln franchises were included in AutoNation's original 160 stores scheduled for renaming. AutoNation has 221 dealerships.