The titans who own the nation's largest privately held dealership groups are mostly familiar names: high-profile businessmen such as Rick Hendrick, John Staluppi, Herb Chambers, Rick Case, Dave Wilson, Alan Potamkin and a handful of other superstars.
But the biggest of them all appears to be a hard-nosed, hard-driving Florida entrepreneur you have never heard of.
Through a string of acquisitions in recent years, Terry Taylor's obsessively secretive West Palm Beach, Fla.-based company, Automotive Management Services Inc., has quietly amassed the No. 1 private new-car dealership group in the country -- at least in terms of the number of rooftops it owns.
Taylor's latest addition is 11 stores from Sam Swope Auto Group of Louisville, Ky., one of the nation's best-known family-owned dealership companies. The sale comes less than a year after the group's founder, Sam Swope, died.
For Taylor -- seemingly the most aggressive buyer of dealerships in the U.S. these days -- the Swope deal last month was just another day at the office.
"I believe we are up to 115 dealerships," said Peter Stratton, Internet director for one of Taylor's dealerships, Jaguar Land Rover of Fort Myers in Fort Myers, Fla.
Others who know Taylor say the number is higher -- over 140 new-vehicle dealerships, although it's not clear whether that includes the Swope acquisition. Taylor has told acquaintances he plans to have 200 stores within a year, which would make his company second only to AutoNation and Penske Automotive Group in rooftops.
Several dealers and dealership brokers who spoke on background say they believe those lofty numbers are in the ballpark, although there is no public list of the stores, and Taylor declined to be interviewed for this story.
A woman who called herself Taylor's secretary said, "We have no comment."
If the numbers are about right, the company is the fourth-largest dealership group based in the U.S. -- public or private. And no other private company comes close to the number of stores Automotive Management Services owns.