Per-vehicle F&I revenue at each of those three groups averaged more than $1,300, a level that was unheard of a couple of years ago.
F&I per-vehicle revenue jumped 10 percent at Group 1, to $1,351. AutoNation led in absolute terms, with $1,381 in average per-vehicle F&I revenue, up 8 percent.
The public companies and large privately owned dealership groups are making greater efforts to sell F&I products such as extended-service contracts, GAP and prepaid maintenance. That's partly to make up for lower gross profits on new cars and partly because they're worried dealer reserve could shrink.
But they concede that -- for now -- auto lenders are sticking to dealer reserve on indirect auto loans instead of switching to flat fees.
"We've had very transparent and fluid discussions with all of our major lenders," said Pete DeLongchamps, vice president of financial services and manufacturer relations for Group 1.
"But at this point, there's been no appreciable change in the way they're buying spreads, or a flat fee strategy," he said in a conference call last week following the release of the company's second-quarter financial results.
Dealers and auto lenders are on high alert to see whether the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau can force lenders to drop dealer reserve and switch to flat fees. Historically, flat fees have been lower than the amount dealerships can earn from dealer reserve.
The CFPB targeted dealer reserve earlier this year, when it said lenders could be responsible for discrimination in the form of a disparate impact against minorities. The CFPB suggested lenders could switch to flat fees instead of allowing dealerships to tack on an extra amount to customer interest rates on indirect loans, where the dealership acts as a middleman.
The issue was on the minds of financial analysts listening to the quarterly earnings conference calls. In call after call, analysts asked the companies whether they had noticed any change in policies among auto lenders.
Chris Holzshu, CFO for Lithia Motors Inc., said last week that none of Lithia's major lenders had made any changes. He said only one bank in Lithia's group of lenders, which had funded a total of "about 10 deals for us year to date," had switched to flat fees from dealer reserve.
Holzshu said in a separate e-mail that the lender was "a small bank in North Dakota," which he wouldn't name.
Asbury CEO Craig Monaghan said he doesn't have any statistics to back it up, but he said he has a gut feeling lenders are more "diligent" or "focused" on rate caps limiting dealer reserve, which have been in place for years. He said Asbury also has its own, internal caps.
"We are seeing some changes at the banks," Monaghan said. "I'd back up and say we don't have a lot of visibility -- in fact we have virtually no visibility into where this is going."
In Automotive News' rankings of the top 125 dealership groups in the United States, AutoNation was No. 1 with new-vehicle retail sales of 267,810 units in 2012; Penske Automotive Group was No. 2 with 180,764; Sonic Automotive Inc. was No. 3 with 132,136; Group 1 was No. 4 with 128,550; Asbury Automotive Group was No. 7 with 77,712; and Lithia Motors was No. 9 with 56,960.