Warren Buffett's purchase of the Van Tuyl Group may be his first foray into auto retailing, but he already has bet heavily on the turnaround of General Motors.
Buffett, the legendary Oracle of Omaha, is CEO of Berkshire Hathaway Inc., the publicly traded investment company that agreed last week to buy privately held Van Tuyl.
Berkshire started investing in GM common shares in 2012, eventually acquiring as many as 40 million shares in 2013 before scaling back. Berkshire today owns about 33 million shares, or about 2 percent of the carmaker's outstanding shares.
At a conference last month billed as Detroit Homecoming, Buffett said he was a fan of GM CEO Mary Barra.
"Mary is a real car guy. I was enormously impressed with her," Buffett was quoted during an onstage sit-down at the Detroit event with Dan Gilbert, founder of mortgage-origination giant Quicken Loans.
As far back as 2008, Berkshire Hathaway bought a 9.9 percent stake in Chinese battery and electric car maker BYD Co.
Buffett, 84, is one of the world's most-watched investors. Forbes ranks Buffett America's second-wealthiest person, with an estimated personal wealth of $67 billion. He trails only Microsoft founder Bill Gates, as he has since 2001. Gates' worth was pegged by the magazine most recently at $81 billion.
Berkshire Hathaway, of Omaha, is a holding company. While insurance companies such as Geico represent the core of Berkshire Hathaway's holdings, the company's units are as disparate as Dairy Queen, Burlington Northern Santa Fe railroad, Fruit of the Loom and paint maker Benjamin Moore. Besides GM, Berkshire Hathaway also owns stakes in other iconic brands such as Coca-Cola. The company employed about 331,000 people at the end of 2013, with a market capitalization of $337.4 billion today. A single share of Berkshire Hathaway trades for more than $200,000.
It is still unclear whether Berkshire Hathaway will rebrand each of the 75 Van Tuyl stores under the new corporate name of Berkshire Hathaway Automotive, as giant AutoNation Inc. did with the majority of its stores in 2013.
But there is precedent for that kind of rebranding under the Berkshire Hathaway umbrella. Over the past few years, the company has acquired Prudential realty groups and rebranded them Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices.