"We're seeing a lot of auto dealers that have decided now is the right time for them to exit, and so there are a lot of opportunities for buyers out there," said Alan Haig, president of Haig Partners in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., which produces the Haig Report quarterly.
According to the report, more dealers appear to be putting stores up for sale as they get older and as dealership values decline. Other factors include concern over higher capital requirements, new technology risks and growing control of dealership profits by automakers.
Haig estimates that 106 dealerships traded hands in the third quarter, up 26 percent from the same period a year earlier.
The number was significantly impacted by a single deal: Ken Garff Automotive Group's acquisition of total ownership of 28 stores from a joint venture with Leucadia National Corp. called Garcadia. Garff Automotive of Salt Lake City ranked No. 8 on Automotive News' 2018 list of the largest dealership groups based in the U.S., with 69,888 new-vehicle retail sales in 2017.
Without the Garff deal, dealership buy-sells were down 7 percent in the third quarter, according to Haig. But for the first nine months of 2018, U.S. dealership sales were estimated at 317, up 35 percent over the same time in 2017.
Similarly, the third-quarter Blue Sky Report from Kerrigan Advisors in Irvine, Calif., estimates the number of auto retail buy-sells at 179 through the first nine months of 2018, up 20 percent. It estimates 296 franchises were sold over nine months, up 22 percent, and multi-dealership transactions jumped 44 percent.