After the trouble TrueCar endured in 2012, CEO Scott Painter said the Federal Trade Commission probe of some dealers who opposed the online car-shopping site is a minor speed bump -- and may be a net gain for the company.
He insists that TrueCar did nothing to initiate the investigation into whether some dealers colluded in 2011 and 2012 to boycott TrueCar and possibly hurt consumers in the process.
Painter said that he has fielded phone calls from friends and dealer clients who mistakenly thought that TrueCar was the subject of the probe. Actually, the dealers that were the loudest opponents of TrueCar's former pricing practices are the ones that received letters from the FTC this month seeking documents about their opposition and activities.
Painter said he sees the spotlight on TrueCar as a return to relevance rather than a negative.
"That we're the topic of conversations again is a pleasant headache to have," he said.
TrueCar is a third-party shopping site that allows consumers to get guaranteed prices on new and used vehicles from participating dealers.
Painter said the FTC inquiry has given TrueCar an opportunity to tell people that the shopping site is again on a growth trajectory.
The site has about 6,500 participating franchises today. That's more than twice the 3,200 franchises that TrueCar fell to in early 2012 when state regulators challenged whether TrueCar was violating advertising and consumer laws in several states.
Those regulators acted after dealers and their associations in several states complained about the cutthroat vehicles prices that TrueCar helped fetch for consumers by getting dealers to bid competitively for the buyers.
In the months it took to come into compliance in all states and end dealer bidding wars for customers, TrueCar almost went out of business. It posted a net loss of $75 million in 2012. The company is complying with the request for documents it received also from the FTC, Painter said.
Today, Painter said, TrueCar is profitable and its dealer network holding firm even in the face of the FTC probe.