The biggest car dealership groups swallowed a bigger share of U.S. auto sales last year.
New-vehicle retail sales for the top 125 dealership groups grew a collective 19 percent in 2012, while the whole U.S. market rose 13 percent. Tallying just the 113 dealership groups that were on the list for both 2012 and 2011, new-vehicle retail sales were up 18 percent.
In the annual Automotive News top-dealership rankings, the large groups got larger, many of them by acquiring stores.
As usual, AutoNation was the dominant U.S. retailer, up 20 percent to 267,810 new vehicles. Nine of the top 15 groups boosted sales 20 percent or more.
The 125 groups in the annual listing are ranked by retail sales of new cars and trucks in 2012.
The U.S. retail car business remains highly fragmented, with 17,760 dealerships housing 31,376 franchises. Mom-and-pop stores are alive and well. But acquisitions continue to consolidate the industry a little bit each year.
The 125 groups, when fleet sales are added in, accounted for 19 percent of all new-vehicle sales last year, up a percentage point from 2011.
Many groups outpaced the market largely by adding stores in the past two years. And dealers envision another big year for acquisitions.
Greenway Automotive of Orlando, for example, grew both through acquisition and through having brands that outperformed the market.
Even as its new-vehicle sales surged 28 percent to 31,019, Greenway stayed at No. 13 on the list.
Greenway Chairman Frank Rodriguez attributes the sales increase to acquiring a handful of dealerships in late 2011 and in 2012 and to big jumps in his stores that sell Ford, Chrysler and especially Kia. His group grew by nine dealerships to 28 in 2012.
"Our Kia business -- and we have 10 Kia franchises -- has increased dramatically in the last 24 months," Rodriguez says.
At Earnhardt Auto Centers, in Chandler, Ariz., Korean franchises pumped the group to No. 27 on the 2012 list from No. 45 in 2011. Earnhardt sold 19,049 new units, up 42 percent.
Dodge Earnhardt, an owner of his family's group, says the rise was powered in part by the 2011 addition of two Hyundai dealerships and a Kia store.
"It took a little while to get ramped up and get things going," says the third-generation dealer. Now, he says, "They're definitely rockin'."
The Earnhardt group added a Lexus store in March 2012 and a Cadillac store last November, and it expects to close on another Cadillac dealership in about a week.
"I think both those brands will pull out big numbers this year, 2013, for us," Earnhardt says.
Another big gainer was Findlay Automotive Group in Henderson, Nev., which jumped 16 places to No. 26. Findlay CFO Tyler Corder attributed some of the growth to the acquisition of Audi, Fiat and Nissan dealerships last year and a Volkswagen dealership in 2011.
"So far, our new-vehicle sales are about 30 percent ahead of last year," Corder says. "Interest rates are still low; credit is still readily available."
David Wyler, president of the Jeff Wyler Automotive Family Inc. in Milford, Ohio, says the group added a Chevrolet store and a Chrysler-Jeep-Dodge-Ram dealership in 2012. Together they added about 1,600 new units to the group's sales last year. The group's new-unit retail sales rose 32 percent to 15,759, pushing it up 10 spots to No. 41.
In January, the Wyler group acquired a Chevrolet-Buick-GMC store. Wyler says the group's sales so far this year are up about 20 percent from the year-ago period. The group will shop for new dealerships throughout the year, he adds.
"We're out actively looking and talking to folks," he says. "We're excited about what the future is going to bring to us."
The strengthening U.S. automotive market of 2012 was good to big dealership groups, and they're likely to get bigger still this year.